Government Urged to Recommend Sugar Limits

WASHINGTON - Citing new figures that show that in 1999 Americans ate more sugar than ever before, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging the federal government to advise consumers to limit their sugar intake. According to new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, sugar consumption in 1999 was 158 pounds per person — 30 percent higher than in 1983. Consumption has risen every year but one since 1983.

     “USDA’s ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ should advise consumers to ‘limit their intake of added sugars,’” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit CSPI. “Eating large amounts of soft drinks, candy, and other sugary foods squeezes healthier foods out of some people’s diets and promotes obesity in some people.”

     A new version of “Dietary Guidelines” is set for release on May 30th. The food industry contends that the huge increase in sugar consumption has had no impact on health.

     In a paper published earlier this year, USDA researcher Shanthy A. Bowman, of the Agricultural Research Service, reported that heavier consumers of refined sugars (more than 18 percent of calories from added sugars) typically consume more calories but less of 15 different nutrients than do lighter consumers (under 12 percent of calories). The high consumers consumed 15 times more soft drinks and fruit ades per day than the lower consumers.

     USDA has stated that the average American, who consumes about 2,000 calories per day, can eat up to 10 teaspoons of added sugars, if he or she eats a healthful diet containing all the recommended servings of fruits, dairy products, and other foods. In fact, though, the average American is not eating that healthful diet and consumes 20 teaspoons per day of sugar.

     The 158-pound figure — equivalent to about 50 teaspoons per day — represents the amount of sugar that is available in wholesale channels. The actual amount consumed is considerably less. USDA surveys indicate that the average teenage boy eats at least 109 pounds per year, while the average American eats upwards of 64 pounds.

     Because of the sharp increase in sugar consumption — paralleled by a doubling in the rate of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents in the past 20 years — CSPI and other health groups petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in 1999 to set a “Daily Value” for sugar intake and list on food labels the amount of added sugars and the “% Daily Value” in a serving. CSPI recommended that the Daily Value — the recommended daily limit — be set at 40 grams, or 10 teaspoons, the figure recommended by USDA. The FDA has not responded to the petition.

     The 1999 figure for added-sugars consumption is 1.5 percent greater than in 1998. “Added sugars” includes table sugar (cane and beet; sucrose), corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sugar (glucose), honey, and others. It does not include the sugars in milk, fruit, and vegetables, of which Americans should be consuming more, because of the nutrients in those foods.

     Increasing sugar intake and obesity will be discussed at the upcoming National Nutrition Summit, which is sponsored by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. It is being held in Washington on May 30-31. CSPI’s Jacobson and nutrition policy director Margo Wootan are chairing panels.

     Interestingly, in 1986 the Food and Drug Administration predicted that sugar consumption would level off and then decline in the next few years.