Sugar & the obesity crisis

Obesity is becoming one of the greatest health challenges facing Australia.

More than two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese and the rate of obesity has grown from 19% to 28% over the last two decades [1]. By 2025 it is estimated one third of children will be overweight and obese [2]. Consuming too much sugar is making the nation fatter, bringing with it the growing burden of chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular, Liver and Kidney Disease. The cost of obesity to the nation is projected to be in excess of $87.5 billion over the next ten years if no action is taken [3].

The consumption of added sugar in our diet causes weight gain by providing excessive and empty calories which offer no true nutritional value. There is a strong body of evidence to support the link between sugar consumption and weight gain. The large scale review commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) published in 2013 [4] provided sufficient evidence to form the basis of WHO guidelines that recommend added sugar should make up no more than 10% of total calorie intake. More recently there have been randomized controlled trials showing the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on weight gain in adolescents [5]. This supports a number of prospective cohort studies which confirm the link between sugars-sweetened beverages and increased obesity rates [6]. 

1] Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011-2012  (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 

2] Walls H.L, Magliano D.J, Stevenson C.E, Backholer K, Mannan H.R, Shaw J.E, Peeters A. (2012) Projected progression of the Prevalence of Obesity in Australia. 

3] Weighing the cost of Obesity: A case for action – PwC Australia (2015) 

4] Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. (2013) Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials and cohort studies. This large-scale systematic analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization provides consistent evidence that diets higher in added sugars resulted weight gain in adults.  The findings identified decreased intake of added sugars significantly reduced body weight by 0.80 kg, and increased consumption led to a comparable weight increase of 0.75 kg.  

5] de Ruyter J.C, Olthof M.R, Seidell J.C, Katan M.B. (2012) A trial of sugar-free or sugar sweetened beverages and body weight in children. This double blind randomized controlled trial showed significantly reduced weight gain and body fat in healthy children when they consumed a masked replacement of a sugar-free beverage compared to those consuming a sugary drink.  

6] Hu, F.B. (2013) Pro v Con Debate: Role of sugar sweetened beverages in obesity

Resolved: there is sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases. This systematic review goes a step further by evaluating evidence against criteria to prove there is a cause-effect relationship between sugary drinks and obesity. This study provides evidence that consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks causes excess weight gain and that sugary drinks are unique dietary contributors to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.