Added sugar consumption in Australia
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Added sugar consumption in Australia

Intake of added sugars has been associated with health issues such as weight gain and dental caries. As it happens with most developed countries, added sugar consumption in Australia exceeds recommended limits.

Last week I explained the difference between added, free and total sugars. Briefly, added sugars are those that do not occur naturally in foods and are added before consumption. Free sugars include added sugars and the natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juices (1).

Regarding recommended intake of added and free sugars, guidelines differ. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting the intake of added sugars but do not specify a quantity (2). The World Health Organisation (WHO) does recommend a limit of 10% of daily energy intake from free sugars with potential extra benefit for those consuming less than 5% (1).

Added sugar consumption in Australia

The following graphs show data from the Australian Health Survey 2011-12.

Mean daily macronutrient contribution to energy intake by age group

All age groups up to 50 years old consumed more than the maximum of 10% of energy from free sugars recommended by the WHO. Children and adolescents between 9 and 18 years old were the biggest consumers of both added and free sugars, followed by children 4-8 years old and adults 19-30 years old. There was little difference between males and females within age groups (3).

Proportion of added sugars from food groups (%)

The three food groups contributing the most to added sugar intake as a percentage of total daily energy intake were “non-alcoholic beverages”, “cereal-based products” (this sounds like breakfast but actually includes cakes and biscuits!), and “dishes and sugar products and dishes” (4).

Proportion of added sugars from selected food groups (%)

Within the top 3 food groups for added sugar consumption, the subgroups that contributed the most to added sugar intake were: “soft drinks, and flavoured mineral waters” (males consumed more than females), “cakes, muffins, scones, cake-type desserts” (females consume more than males), “sugar, honey and syrups” (gender tie) (4).

Proportion of free sugars from food groups (%)

The same trends for added sugars are observed for free sugars (5).

Proportion of free sugars from selected food groups (%)

The same trends for added sugars are observed for free sugars (5).

Mean daily proportion of energy from added sugars by state/territory (%)

When it comes to geographical location, the highest consumption of added sugars as a percentage of total energy intake was found in TAS, NT and QLD. In all states children and adolescents were the biggest consumers of added sugars as a proportion of energy intake, with those 14-18 years old being the top consumers in most states except for NSW (children 9-13 years old) and VIC (children 4-8 years old) (6).

Mean daily proportion of energy from free sugars by state/territory (%)

The same states are the highest consumers of free sugars (6). In all states children and adolescents were the biggest consumers of free sugars as a proportion of energy intake, with those 14-18 years old being the top consumers in most states except for NSW (children 9-13 years old), VIC (children 4-8 years old) and TAS (children 2-3 years old) (7).

Summary and recommendations

Most Australians eat more added and free sugars than what guidelines recommend. The main culprits are sugar-sweetened beverages (including fruit and vegetable juices/drinks), sugar, honey, syrups, cakes, muffins, scones, etc.

Keep in mind those results were from a population-based survey and your added sugar intake might be coming from different foods. To ensure you are not eating excessive amounts of added/free sugars:

  • Avoid processed foods, in particular sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Read nutrition labels. Added sugars can be found in sweet and savoury foods, including sauces, olives, bread, etc.

If you are an athlete don’t panic if your added sugar intake exceeds recommended limits to a great extent. Remember you are eating for performance and not only for health. Speak to your sports dietitian if you are concerned about your added sugar intake.

References

  1. Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015.
  2. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2013.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars, 2011-12, ‘Table 5.1 Mean daily macronutrient contribution to energy intake’, data cube: Excel spreadsheet, cat. no. 4364.0.55.011, viewed 08 July 2020, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&4364.0.55.011%20-%20consumption%20of%20added%20sugars.xls&4364.0.55.011&Data%20Cubes&624E4BD668E91CE2CA2581F500054CCA&0&2011-12&27.04.2016&Latest
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars, 2011-12, ‘Table 6.1 Proportion of Added Sugars from food groups (%)’, data cube: Excel spreadsheet, cat. no. 4364.0.55.011, viewed 08 July 2020, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&4364.0.55.011%20-%20consumption%20of%20added%20sugars.xls&4364.0.55.011&Data%20Cubes&624E4BD668E91CE2CA2581F500054CCA&0&2011-12&27.04.2016&Latest
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars, 2011-12, ‘Table 7.1 Proportion of Free Sugars from food groups (%)’, data cube: Excel spreadsheet, cat. no. 4364.0.55.011, viewed 08 July 2020, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&4364.0.55.011%20-%20consumption%20of%20added%20sugars.xls&4364.0.55.011&Data%20Cubes&624E4BD668E91CE2CA2581F500054CCA&0&2011-12&27.04.2016&Latest
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars, 2011-12, ‘Table 10.1 Mean daily proportion of energy from added sugars by selected sociodemographic characteristics (%)’, data cube: Excel spreadsheet, cat. no. 4364.0.55.011, viewed 08 July 2020, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&4364.0.55.011%20-%20consumption%20of%20added%20sugars.xls&4364.0.55.011&Data%20Cubes&624E4BD668E91CE2CA2581F500054CCA&0&2011-12&27.04.2016&Latest
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars, 2011-12, ‘Table 11.1 Mean daily proportion of energy from free sugars by selected sociodemographic characteristics(%)’, data cube: Excel spreadsheet, cat. no. 4364.0.55.011, viewed 08 July 2020, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&4364.0.55.011%20-%20consumption%20of%20added%20sugars.xls&4364.0.55.011&Data%20Cubes&624E4BD668E91CE2CA2581F500054CCA&0&2011-12&27.04.2016&Latest

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