WASHINGTON - Citing Americans’ sharp increase in sugar consumption, a broad array of health and nutrition experts have asked the federal government to commission a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study on the health consequences of sugar consumption. In a letter to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the experts cited medical evidence indicating that diets high in sugar can promote obesity, kidney stones, osteoporosis, heart disease, and dental caries.
The letter was signed by Dr. George Blackburn of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kelly Brownell of Yale University, Dr. Marion Nestle of New York University, Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, the American Public Health Association, the American School Health Association, C. Everett Koop’s “Shape Up America!” organization, the Society for Nutrition Education, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and 38 other professors and health groups.
According to the USDA, people consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat no more than about 10 teaspoons of added sugar. USDA surveys show that the average American is consuming about 20 teaspoons of sugar per day.
“Sugar consumption is off the charts,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Added sugars - found largely in junk foods such as soft drinks, cakes, and cookies - squeeze healthier foods out of the diet. That sugar now accounts for 16 percent of the calories consumed by the average American and 20 percent of teenagers’ calories.”
A government study found that in 1977-78 added sugars provided only 11 percent of the average person’s calories.
Soft drinks, which contain about nine teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce can, are a leading contributor to increased sugar consumption. The per capita consumption of soda has doubled since 1974. In their letter, the experts warned that soda pop may be contributing to osteoporosis because many teenage girls and young women drink soda instead of calcium-rich milk.
In 1942, the American Medical Association (AMA) expressed concern about sweetened carbonated beverages, candy, and other foods rich in sugar but poor in nutrients. The AMA urged that “all practical means be taken to limit consumption” of such foods. Since 1942, soft-drink consumption has increased about seven-fold (excluding diet soda), and overall sugar consumption has increased by one-third.
“Many Americans will make New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and lose weight. Cutting back on nutrient-poor sugary foods, such as soda, cookies, candies, and pastries, will help people achieve their resolutions,” stated Dr. Margo Wootan, senior scientist for CSPI.
The health experts’ letter also cited studies showing that most Americans are not eating the recommended levels of fruits and vegetables and that obesity rates in the U.S. have sharply increased. Twenty years ago, teens consumed almost twice as much milk as soda; today they consume almost twice as much soda as milk.
The experts urged that an NAS study of sugar consumption be conducted to assess the full impact of added sugars on Americans’ diet and health. They said the study should also recommend future policy changes and research.
“With all the focus on fat, we’ve forgotten about sugar. It’s time to rethink our national infatuation with sweets,” concluded Jacobson.