Anytime you threaten the profits of a team of large corporations, you better get ready for a high-dollar counter-campaign. That’s exactly what the World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing for as they lower their sugar-consumption recommendations. This won’t be the first time the WHO met with vehement backlash from the sugar industry, so this time the organization is prepared.
The WHO has moved to lower their sugar recommendations by half—from 10% of your daily caloric intake to 5%. In 2003, when the WHO lowered recommendations to the current 10%, the sugar industry pushed the U.S. government to withhold WHO funding if they didn’t reconsider. The WHO stood firm and is now prepared to push even harder.
“These are reasonable limits,” says Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Five per cent of calories is just a bit less than in a typical serving of soda, and we have good evidence of increased risk of diabetes with that intake, which of course increases with greater intake.”
Less than a typical serving of soda means less money in the bank for the makers of that soda, or breakfast cereals, brightly colored yogurts, and other processed foods. It means less money in the bank for sugar producers too. All of these well-funded groups are no doubt resistant to the recommendations.
The WHO says it’s recommendations are based on analyses of more than 120 studies that were part of two different meta-analyses, all of which indicated our sugar-addiction is at least partially to blame for high obesity rates and public health issues like type 2 diabetes.
Just one study on sugar’s negative effects showed how increased sugar intake equals an increased risk of diabetes, even with things like lifestyle, obesity, aging, and more accounted for. For every increase in sugar availability (equal to a can of soda per day) there was a 1% rise in diabetes. While 1% might not seem significant, consider how many people drink multiple sodas each week or even each day.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates young U.S. adults obtain more than 14% of their calories from “free sugars” or those sugars added to foods, not counting those naturally occurring in things like fruit. What’s worse, kids are consuming 7 trillion calories of sugar from cancer-causing sodas every year.
But more than just the change in recommendations, the WHO has changed their method of accepting feedback, in anticipation of the push-back from corporate interests.
Anyone who wants to comment on the recommended guidelines must first submit a “declaration of interest” form, stating why they should be listened to in the first place. If that interest is coming from the food industry, the WHO says it is “very well equipped to resist that type of pressure.”