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Research Updates | Obesity / Overweight

Does sugar uniquely Influence weight gain?

23 / 01 / 13

A recently published paper in the British Medical Journal by researchers Jim Mann and Lisa Te Morenga says 'no', sugar does not uniquely influence weight gain. The paper summarises evidence on the association between intake of dietary sugars and body weight in adults and children.

This is an important review of available evidence on total sugar intake and body weight. Sugar is a source of dietary energy and excess consumption of any source of energy is associated with body weight. A reduction in energy intake from any source will reduce body weight and vice versa.

Interpretation of this review is difficult, due to the amalgamation of different study designs, studies on sugar-containing foods with those involving drinks, and including subjects with medical conditions which may have affected dietary intake.  The study concludes that the extent to which population based advice to reduce sugars might reduce risk of obesity cannot be extrapolated from the present findings. Importantly, there is no underlying metabolic mechanism for weight gain that is unique to sugar.

Sugar in moderation is an integral part of a healthy diet.  Average New Zealand sugar intakes are moderate compared with those of most countries, though collaborative work from all sectors is still required to help all New Zealanders enjoy a healthy overall diet that meets individual nutrient needs and food and lifestyle preferences.

Balance and variety in our diet are key to good health so it is important to eat a wide variety of foods to get all of the nutrients we need.  If we eat too much of the same types of foods, no matter what they are, we have less room for balance and variety.

The authors concur that obesity is due to total energy intake being greater than energy output, and therefore all energy sources, not only sugars need to be considered. There is a place for all food within the diet.

The study and further discussion can be found on this British Medical Journal website link Dietary Sugars and Body Weight.

The authors: 

Professor Jim Mann has been Professor in Human Nutrition and Medicine at the University of Otago and Consultant Physician (Endocrinology) in Dunedin Hospital for 25 years.

Dr Lisa Te Morenga is a Research Fellow in the Department of Human Nutrition and is affiliated with the Riddet Institute – a National Centre of Research Excellence in food science and nutrition.