A new study shows that for the past 30 years we have been eating more foods with added sugar and, correspondingly, our weight has increased as well. The important thing to note in the study is that the Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) of the subjects ascended through the decades right along with the increases in dietary added sugar. Previous research has confirmed that there’s a connection between eating greater quantities of fat and calories and increases in our weight, but this study pointed a finger at added sugars as another culprit in this matter.
Health and appetite impart the sweetness to sugar, bread, and meat. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
In our increasingly processed nutritional world, we seem to be using a lot of added sugar to impart the sweetness these days. In fact, a new study shows that for the past 30 years, we have been eating more foods with added sugar and, correspondingly, our weight has increased as well.
This news shouldn’t exactly come as a shock to anyone. But this research, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2011 Scientific Sessions,1 specifically analyzed consumption of foods with added sugar and tied that to some expansion in our girth. And for those who refuse to believe anything until the scientific community confirms it, that’s significant.
The study took place at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, where scientists have been tracking these trends since 1980. Every five years since then, researchers question approximately 5,000 volunteers from the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. They obtain information on what the subjects ate recently plus get a complete history with body weight, age, socioeconomic background and lifestyle influences.
All of the data is incorporated into a computer program that breaks foods down by nutritional analysis, including how much of the sugar in someone’s diet comes from natural sources and how much is added by manufacturers. And since the data collection began in 1980, boy, has our intake of added sugars risen! Younger adults eat more added sugar than older adults, possibly because they were raised on the stuff. For women of all ages, sugar consumption has increased, but not nearly as much as that of men. Men topped the charts with a 40 percent increase in the amount of added sugar they ingest daily — accounting for close to 15 percent of their total calories.
And America hardly holds the exclusive on this phenomenon. In fact, per capita sugar consumption is notably higher in Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Thailand, the EU, and South Africa.2
The important thing to note in the study is that the Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) of the subjects ascended through the decades right along with the increases in dietary added sugar. Previous research has confirmed that there’s a connection between eating greater quantities of fat and calories and increases in our weight, but this study pointed a finger at added sugars as another culprit in this matter.
Not that this was the first research to link added sugars to weight gain. As early as 2004, a study at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge linked the use of one of the most common added sugars — high fructose corn syrup — in beverages to the obesity epidemic in the United States. According to their analysis, the increased use of high fructose corn syrup in the U.S. from 1970 to 1990 mirrored the rapid increase in obesity.
This was followed in 2009 by a study at Princeton University in New Jersey that found that rats gained considerably more weight when they consumed high fructose corn syrup compared to rats eating basic table sugar, although both groups had the same total caloric intake. The rats eating the high fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those consuming an equivalent amount of regular table sugar, plus, they had a far higher incidence of metabolic syndrome.
Both sugar and high fructose corn syrup contain about 15 calories per teaspoon, and even if they affected the body in the same way (which the Princeton study indicates is not the case), what matters is how those calories mount up. A 12-ounce serving of fruit punch or soda contains about one teaspoon of sweetener per ounce. That’s 12 teaspoons, or about 150 calories per serving. Drink just a couple of those a day and you’ve added 300 extra empty calories per day to your diet. At three to six servings per day, that could translate to an added two pounds of body weight gained every week — not to mention a 90% increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer.3,4
So although this is not groundbreaking news at this point, this study can serve as a good reminder that we need to keep an eye on the sugar in our diets as well as the fat and calorie counts. And do everything we can to keep those added sugars in check for our health as well as our waistlines.
1 “Not So Sweet: Increased Added Sugars Intake Parallels Trends in Weight Gain.” American Heart Association. 24 March 2011. American Heart Association, Inc. 31 March 2011. http://www.newsroom.heart.org/index.php?s=43&item=1290.
2 Annual Report 2010, Part 6, World of Sugar. Illovo Sugar. http://www.illovo.co.za/Libraries/2010_Annual_Report/Annual_Report_2010_Part_6.sflb.ashx
3 Susanna C Larsson, Leif Bergkvist, and Alicja Wolk. Consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and the risk of pancreatic cancer in a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr November 2006 84: 1171-1176. http://www.ajcn.org/content/84/5/1171.abstract?sid=e0f2e9eb-9884-44e1-97ce-8f13ffd772a5
4 Noel T. Mueller, Andrew Odegaard, Kristin Anderson, Jian-Min Yuan, Myron Gross, Woon-Puay Koh, and Mark A. Pereira .Soft Drink and Juice Consumption and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 2010 19: 447-455. <http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/19/2/447.abstract?sid=99bc42ac-6bc2-49c2-b436-49f9b75ef7e0>.