(ABS) data on free sugars released
Our consumption of added sugars has been widely debated. Now, hot on the heels of the Lei et al (2016) paper from Sydney University we reported on last month, the ABS has released a secondary analysis 'Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Added Sugars' using the same methodology (modified slightly) and finds similar results. As a nation we aren't doing too badly but our overconsumption of discretionary foods is a big nutritional issue.
How much 'free sugars' are Australians consuming?
'Free sugars' are any sugars added by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus the sugars in honey, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates. This definition was developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is broader than 'added sugars' used in the Dietary Guidelines. Despite the ABS report's title, the reporting of results focuses on free sugars to enable comparison to WHO recommendations and added sugars data are included in the supplementary tables- the added sugars are lower, as you would expect.
In Australians aged 2 years and over:
Sources of free sugars
How was this analysis done?
One of the key challenges in determining added or free sugars intake, as previously reported, is there is no analytical method to determine if the sugars in foods are intrinsic or free or added.
Therefore the ABS used a modified version of the Louie et al (2014) 10-step methodology to create two datasets from AUSNUT 2011-13 – one for free sugars and one for added sugars.
The adaptations they made to the method include using only the first four steps (and not the final four subjective steps), and the use of ABS standard recipes, probably explain the small differences in the results obtained (10.9% vs 12%E from free sugars).
As discussed previously, using food databases and standard recipes is not 100% accurate in reporting sugar content of the wide variety of foods consumed but these are the best estimate tools available.
Are we eating more or less added sugar than previously?
Free sugars intake has not previously been estimated so trends cannot be determined. If we look at added sugars since the 1995 National Nutrition Survey assessed by Cobiac et al (2003), intake has fallen has fallen for men aged 19 years and over from a mean intake of 74g/day to 59g/day. For women, mean intake has remained the same at 45g/d.
The usual disclaimers apply to this trend data; there are methodological differences between the national nutrition surveys and secondary analyses, and accuracy of self-report data in surveys is less than perfect
How do we compare to other countries?
In New Zealand, the latest data on added sugars intake is from the 2002 Health Survey. A secondary analysis of this survey by Parnell et al (2007) et al used sucrose intake as an indirect estimate of added sugars and found median sucrose intake was 42g/d for women and 55g/d for men. This represents 9-10% of total energy intake.
Both Australia and New Zealand's free sugars intake is similar to other western countries. The Dutch consume around 14% total energy from free sugars, 13% energy is from added sugar in the US, and the UK consumes 11.5% from non-milk extrinsic sugars.
What should we take from this?
This latest Report released by the ABS highlights the importance of reducing the high consumption of discretionary foods in the diet. Reducing discretionary food choices will reduce added sugars as well as excess kilojoules and other unfavourable nutrients like saturated fat and sodium. When it comes to free sugars intake, interventions targeting teenagers, rural and remote communities and the most socially disadvantaged groups could improve the national average and performance against the global 10% target