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WHO warns of dangers of added sugar in tooth decay and obesity

WHO warns of dangers of added sugar in tooth decay and obesity

Continuing its campaign against the epidemic of diet-related chronic disease, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today highlighted a new review from South Africa confirming that high consumption of added sugars contributes significantly to the incidence of tooth decay and obesity.

“This paper gives an important perspective on the influence of sugar on diet and nutrition in the developing world, in a country where both under-nutrition and over-nutrition co-exist,” Pekka Puska, WHO Director of Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a news release.

“This information strengthens the ability of the public health community to respond to the epidemic of diet-related chronic disease,” added Dr. Puska, who is leading WHO’s development of a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

Published in this month’s WHO Bulletin, the findings cover both rural and urban populations, and add to the growing body of global evidence on the influence of diet on chronic disease. The paper examines the effect of added sugars on a population experiencing both under-nutrition and over-nutrition.

The information was compiled as part of an effort by the South African Department of Health to advise on sugar consumption in its dietary guidelines. The researchers recommend that added sugars should form no more than 6 to 10 per cent of total dietary intake. The wording of the guideline, they suggest, should be: “Eat and drink food and drinks containing sugar sparingly and not between meals.”

The article suggests that increasing problems with dental caries and obesity alone justify the new guideline. It reports that total tooth loss in adult populations in South Africa reaches up to 35 per cent while obesity affects nearly 20 per cent of adults and 30 per cent of black women. Even in children aged 7 to 9, overweight and obesity affect up to 9 per cent.

In April, in conjunction with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WHO launched an experts’ report on a healthy diet low in saturated fats, sugars and salt and high in vegetables and fruits, coupled with regular exercise, in order to combat rapidly growing death rates from diseases such as cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Calling on all governments to take decisive action, the report – Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases – was backed by statistics showing a rapid increase in chronic diseases, which in 2001 contributed about 59 per cent of the 56.5 million total reported deaths in the world and 46 per cent of the global burden of disease.