A new United States study has found that cutting 20 per cent of sugar from packaged foods and 40 percent from beverages could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events such as strokes, heart attacks and cardiac arrests annually.

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in the study published in ScienceDaily stated that reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a large impact on health.

The researchers say consuming sugary foods and beverages is strongly linked to obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers created a model to simulate and quantify the health, economic, and equity impacts of a pragmatic sugar-reduction policy proposed by the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative.

The policy with the goal of encouraging industries to voluntarily commit to gradually reformulate their sugary products, the researchers said, could generate significant health and economic gains if the industry complies with the policy.

According to them, implementing a national policy, however, will require government support to monitor companies as they work toward the targets and to publicly report on their progress. 

The researchers hope their model will build consensus on the need for a national-sugar reformulation policy in the US. 

Product reformulation efforts, according to them have been shown to be successful in reducing other harmful nutrients, such as trans fats and sodium. 

They said the US, however, lags other countries in implementing strong sugar-reduction policies, with countries such as the UK, Norway, and Singapore taking the lead on sugar-reformulation efforts.

But the researchers said that the US may yet become a leader in protecting its people from the dangers of excessive sugar consumption if the NSSRI’s proposed sugar-reduction targets are achieved.

“We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” says Dr. Siyi Shangguan, lead author and attending physician at MGH.

Shangguan added, “Reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a larger impact on the health of Americans than other initiatives to cut sugar, such as imposing a sugar tax, labeling added sugar content, or banning sugary drinks in schools.”

“The NSSRI policy is by far the most carefully designed and comprehensive, yet achievable, sugar-reformulation initiative in the world.”

Co-senior author of the study Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Dr.Dariush Mozaffarian says, “Sugar is one of the most obvious additives in the food supply. 

“Our findings suggest it’s time to implement a national program with voluntary sugar reduction targets, which can generate major improvements in health, health disparities, and healthcare spending in less than a decade”.

Reacting to the study, a Lagos-based Registered Dietician-Nutritionist, Cynthia Onyekwere, told PUNCH HealthWise that in recent times, added sugar has been closely linked to non-communicable diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Onyekwere says it is interesting to note that in this context, the type of sugar being referred to as added or refined sugar is not the sugar that is naturally occurring in the food.

Sugar. Image source: UPI

“Also referred to as extrinsic sugar, refined sugar is added to processed foods such as confectionery to enhance their taste. They are extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet and are readily available for the body to use, thereby making them more harmful than their natural counterparts which digest slowly,” she explained.

Describing the study as a welcome idea, the dietician said frequent and excessive intake of refined sugar increases one’s risk of NCDs.

She noted, “Several efforts have been made to discourage their intake such as explicitly stating their amounts on their products (nutrition labelling). However, they don’t seem to be working.

“This study is a welcome idea as it will go a long in further reducing the consumption of refined sugars. 

“Consequently, the physical, emotional and financial burden of NCDs on individuals, families and the government will be reduced.”

 

PUNCH

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