by Marion Nestle
Mar 6 2014

WHO tries added sugar guideline again: 10% of daily calories!

While I’m on the topic of sugars (see yesterday’s post), the World Health Organization (WHO) has just called for public comment on proposed new guidelines for intake of “free” (added) sugars:

  • Added sugar intake should be less than 10% of total calories per day (50 grams for a 2000 calorie-a-day diet)
  • Intake below 5% of calories would confer additional benefits (25 grams)

Although the announcement casually mentions that the draft guidelines reaffirm a previous WHO sugar guideline from 2002, it just as casually fails to mention what happened to that guideline.

I, however, have perfect recall, particularly because I wrote about these events in the Afterword to the 2013 edition of Food Politics:

In the early 2000s, the World Health Organization (WHO) began work on a global strategy to reduce risk factors for chronic disease, obesity among them. In 2003, it published a research report that advised restricting intake of “free” (added) sugars to 10% or less of daily calories. Although this percentage was similar to that embedded in the USDA’s 1992 Pyramid (7–13% of calories, depending on total intake), sugar industry groups strenuously objected, enlisted senators from sugar-growing states to pressure the DHHS secretary to withdraw funding from WHO, and induced the DHHS chief counsel to send a critique of the report to WHO that had essentially been written by industry lobbyists. When released in 2004, WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health omitted any mention of the background report or the 10% sugar recommendation.

“Strenuously objected” vastly understates what happened.

Why was the sugar industry so concerned?  One 12-ounce Coke or Pepsi contains about 40 grams of sugars.  Have one, and you’ve just about done your added sugars for the day.

WHO must either think that the research basis of the 10% sugar guideline is much stronger now (see references below), or that the political landscape has shifted so far in the direction of reducing sugar intake that governments will ignore industry groups this time.

I’m not so sure.  I think WHO needs all the help it can get with this one.

Submit comments here.  Now!


Reports commissioned by WHO

What happened to the previous guideline


[…] recommendation is not new, as Marion Nestle points out in her blog. It’s just that for years the sugar industry has been able to silence the WHO through intense […]

  • SAO
  • March 8, 2014
  • 12:40 am

To restrict added sugars, you need to know how much are in the product to begin with. With sugar increasingly added to things like tomato sauce and beans, your home-made chili can have plenty of added sugar.

The other thing is what is to stop the food manufacturers from using concentrated fruit juices? No sugar added jam is made with concentrated apple juice and is just as sweet as regular jam.

[…] While I'm on the topic of sugars (see yesterday's post), the World Health Organization (WHO) has just called for public comment on proposed new guidelines for intake of “free” (added) sugars: Added sugar intake should be …  […]

  • Rachna
  • March 10, 2014
  • 7:29 am

Marion, thanks for lesson on the history of this! I’m looking forward to adding my comments through the public consultation in support of this proposal, but the submission process is quite lengthy. I’ll surely complete it, but do you know of other ways to provide feedback / support that may be easier for the average consumer? I’d love to share with friends who care, but may not have time to submit the lengthy form.

[…] WHO tries added sugar guideline again: 10% of daily calories! <<This is big news, and I hope you take notice of the actual numbers. In case you’re wondering, most days I personally don’t touch added sugar (and never sugar substitutes). I make exceptions maybe once or twice a week, when it seems worth it. I credit my compliance to a nutritionally dense diet and strong habits. (Food Politics) […]

[…] Marion Nestle at Food Politics. This time she’s writing on the World Health Organization’s call for comments on its proposed guidelines for intake of added sugars. WHO advocates that added sugars account for less than 10% (50 grams) of daily calories; 5% (25 […]

  • oiwety oiewry
  • March 19, 2014
  • 5:09 am

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  • X C
  • May 10, 2014
  • 4:57 am

This is misleading at best. WHO guideline is for ALL sugar, not “added sugar”, as can be seen in the following paragraph from the exact same link in the article:

“The suggested limits on intake of sugars in the draft guideline apply to all monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, **as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.** ” (Emphasis mine.)

[…] challenge. Unfortunately I can’t see the US government getting a published recommendation of 5% past the sugar lobby, since they don’t seem to be able to do what’s right in the face of money and […]

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