Focus on Eating Less Sweets Not Enough to End Obesity Epidemic, Study Says

Focus on Eating Less Sweets Not Enough to End Obesity Epidemic, Study Says

Researchers at the University of Glasgow studied sugar consumption and concluded that health messages should be revised to focus not only on sugar intake but also on fat consumption, as they may mislead consumers into thinking they don’t need to reduce their overall intake of calories.

“People who are overweight and obese consume more calories than those who are normal weight,” said the study’s co-author, Dr. Jason Gill from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, in a press release. “But they consume a smaller proportion of these calories from sugar and a larger proportion from fat. Thus it is important not to simply focus on reducing sugar intake; we need to emphasize reductions in fat intake as well.”

The U.K. researchers analyzed data from 132,479 people from across the nation who had completed online questionnaires on their diets and agreed to have their measurements taken at a clinic for study purposes. Of those participating in the study, 66% of the men and 52% of the women were overweight or obese.

Even though sugar is currently under attack with, for instance, heavier taxation of sugary foods — due to its minimal nutritional benefit or to its increased calorie intake without satisfying hunger — the researchers found that fat was actually the biggest contributor to the overall calorie intake of these individuals’ diets.

Researchers used body mass index (BMI) — a measurement of the ratio between a person’s height and weight — as a predictor of obesity, in addition to overall caloric intake and intake of calories from fat. The team found that, when compared with normal-weight people, overweight and obese people tended to obtain a higher proportion of their calories from fat, but a lower proportion from sugar, in a significant way.

These findings suggest that the key factor in the current obesity epidemic is  overall calorie intake, and further evidence indicates that, if people only focus on reducing one type of food, they compensate by eating more of other foods — called the ‘sugar-fat seesaw’ — instead of cutting the amount of calories they consume overall.

“The critical message is that people need to reduce their overall calories. If focusing attention on sugar results in people compensating by eating more crisps then we will fail to combat obesity,” said the study’s co-lead author, Jill Pell, director of the Institute for Health and Wellbeing.

The study was published in the journal International Journal of Epidemiology, and titled, “Adiposity among 132 479 UK Biobank participants; contribution of sugar intake vs other macronutrients.” Researchers used data from the U.K. Biobank and received financial support from the Glasgow University Paterson Endowment Fund.

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