New Sugar Guidelines to Improve Global Oral Health

***UPDATED: March 26, 2015*** While the world is now aware of the potentially hazardous effects of excessive sugar consumption, a recent analysis of historical documents suggest that the sugar industry tried to keep consumers in the dark for as long as possible. Most health organizations are now recommending individuals limit (or eliminate) added sugars, but in earlier decades the emphasis was placed on alternative approaches to reducing tooth decay, rather than reducing intake. According to a recent Dental Tribune article, the authors of the study pointed out that the sugar industry’s current position on public health, as it has been for decades, is focused on fluoride toothpaste, dental sealants, and other treatments to reduce the effects of sugar, as opposed to reducing consumption. The analysis showed that the sugar industry had a close relationship with the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR) in the 1960’s and 70’s and funded research in collaboration with allied food industries, leading to the omission of research that could have been harmful to both. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that dental caries is one of the most common chronic disease, affecting 25% of kids ages 6-11 and almost 60% of adolescents ages 12-19. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and other serious health conditions, leading to the new guidelines on sugar intake from the World Health Organization.

In an effort to improve public health problems, like tooth decay and obesity, the World Health Organization (WHO) is taking steps to change the recommended daily intake of sugar from 10% of daily calories to 5%.  Global concern for an increase in the consumption of “free” sugars has been on the rise with a fear that too much not only causes people to eat fewer nutritionally beneficial foods, but also significantly contributes to a number of detrimental health issues.  According to a recent Medical News Today article, “free” sugars are defined as sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers, usually in the form of glucose, fructose, and sucrose, and sugars that are naturally present in fruit juices, fruit concentrates, syrups, and honey.

U.S. consumption of sugary drinks is particularly alarming, with data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showing that about half of the population consumes them daily.  5% of the population actually consumes at least 567 kcal from sugary drinks, or four cans of cola, daily.  Experts at WHO claim that consumption of so-called “free” sugars (especially in the form of sugar-sweetened drinks) may lead to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, both of which have strong ties to oral health.  Other research has indicated that people who consume high amounts of added sugar are at an increased risk of contracting fatal cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, it has been shown that sugar consumption directly influences the development of dental cavities.  Worldwide, it has been found that 60-90% of school children and nearly 100% of adults have dental cavities, which if left untreated can be a precursor to other, more serious oral diseases.    Other attempts to curb the consumption of sugary drinks have occurred elsewhere.  Last year, a study in the UK suggested that adding a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks could help reduce the obesity rate.  The tax is still under review and has not been implemented.  If you have concerns or comments about the new WHO recommendations, the organization is accepting online public comments March 5-31.  More information can be found on their website.

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