How much sugar in a drink is too much?

What quantities of sugar are we consuming in our beverages and what should be considered too much?
A women inhaling sugar through a straw

How much sugar in a drink is too much?

Research undertaken by the Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

These three separate government bodies, recommend that adults and children limit their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and instead drink water or reduced-fat milk. Australian governments should support this call and encourage consumers to limit their sugar-sweetened beverages consumption in line with Australia’s dietary guidelines.

Comprehensive action should be taken by governments, schools, non-government organisations and others to inform the public about the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages and to influence the public to limit their consumption. A comprehensive approach should include:

  1. A social marketing campaign, supported by Australian governments, to highlight the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages consumption and that encourages people to reduce their consumption levels.
  2. An investigation by the federal Department of Treasury and Finance into tax options to increase the price of sugar-sweetened beverages or sugar-sweetened soft drinks, with the aim of changing purchasing habits and achieving healthier diets.
  3. Comprehensive restrictions by Australian governments to reduce children’s exposure to sugar-sweetened beverages marketing, including through schools and children’s sports, events and activities.
  4. Comprehensive restrictions by state governments on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in all schools (primary and secondary), places frequented by children, such as activity centres and at children’s sports and events (with adequate resources to ensure effective implementation, monitoring and evaluation).
  5. An investigation by state and local governments into the steps that may be taken to reduce the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in workplaces, government institutions, health care settings and other public places. Background Australia’s draft dietary guidelines recommend limiting the intake of food and beverages containing added sugars and in particular, limiting sugar-sweetened drinks.

Young Australians remain very high consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages, and sugar-sweetened soft drinks in particular: The 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that 47% of children (2 to 16 years of age) consumed sugar-sweetened beverages (including energy drinks) daily, with 25% consuming sugar-sweetened soft drinks daily. 2-4 The mean daily intake among these children was approximately 1.2 cans (between 436mL and 448mL per day).

Mean daily intake was found to be even higher for consumers of sports drinks (approximately 620mL per day), most likely due to their large standard bottle size. The highest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages among children are male adolescents aged 12 to 18 years.

Among adults, young males (19 to 24 years of age) are the highest consumers of all types of sugar-sweetened beverages. The last National Nutrition Survey found that 58% of this group of consumers drank an average of 2.1 cans per day (800mL).

“Sugar-sweetened beverages” refer to all non-alcoholic water based beverages with added sugar, including sugar sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and cordial. b “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks” refer to all non-alcoholic carbonated drinks, excluding non-sugar-sweetened varieties and energy drinks.

People from socially disadvantaged groups (across all age groups) are significantly higher consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages than those from higher socio-economic groups.

While sugar-sweetened beverages can be helpful for people with type 1 diabetes in the case of acute hypoglycaemia, they provide little (if any) other nutrition or health benefit. Rather, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with increased energy intake and in turn, weight gain and obesity.

Among children (2 to 16 years of age) that consume sugar-sweetened soft drinks, these drinks contribute 26% of their total sugar intake and 7% of their total energy intake.

In the US, it has been estimated that consuming one can of soft drink per day could lead to a 6.75kg weight gain in one year (if these calories are added to a typical US diet and not offset by reduction in other energy sources).

There is evidence that people do not compensate for the energy they consume from sugar sweetened soft drinks by reducing their energy intake from other foods. There is also evidence that sugar-sweetened soft drinks may stimulate appetite or suppress satiety, leading people to consume more energy from other sources.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers (including endometrial, oesophageal, renal, gallbladder, bowel and postmenopausal breast cancers).

It has been estimated that the risk of type-2 diabetes is 26% greater among the highest consumers of sugar sweetened beverages (most often 1– 2 servings/day), compared to those with the lowest levels of intake.

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