Americans cutting sugar – but it’s still not enough

In America’s battle against obesity, there is some good news. According to a study conducted by Emory researchers, Americans consumed nearly a quarter less added sugars in 2008 than they did 10 years earlier.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2011, found that the consumption of added sugars, such as those found in sodas, sports drinks, juices and sweetened dairy products, decreased among all age groups over a decade. The largest decrease came in the consumption of sodas, traditionally the largest contributor to added sugar consumption, according to Jean Welsh, MPH, PhD, RN, study author and post-doctoral fellow in pediatric nutrition at Emory University School of Medicine.

“While we were hopeful this would be the case, we were surprised when our research showed such a substantial reduction in the amount of added sugar Americans are consuming,” said Welsh. “We’re hopeful this trend will continue.”

So, why the change? One of Welsh’s partners in the study, Miriam Vos, MD, MSPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Emory University School of Medicine, and a physician on staff at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, attributes much of the shift to public education.

“Over the past decade, there has been a lot of public health awareness about obesity and nutrition, and I think people are starting to get the message about sugar,” says Vos. “We’re not trying to send a message that sugar is inherently bad. It’s more that the large amounts of sugar we consume are having negative effects on our health, including increasing our risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The study interpreted data of 40,000 people’s diets collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over 10 years.  From the surveys, researchers were able to calculate how much added sugar – that is sugar that is not originally part of a food – that Americans are consuming. In 1999-2000, the typical person’s daily diet included approximately 100 grams of added sugar, a number that had dropped to 77 grams by 2007 and 2008.

While the study shows that the amount of added sugar Americans are consuming is lower, it doesn’t mean the amount is low enough.

“The American Heart Association recommends that we get about five percent of our calories from added sugars,” says Vos. “In 1999 to 2000, people were consuming about 18 percent of their calories from added sugars. Over 10 years, that amount decreased to 14.5 percent of our daily calories, which is much better. But, clearly, 14.5 percent is still three times more than what is considered a healthy amount. We’re on the right track, but we still have room for improvement.”

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