The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a public consultation on its draft guidance for sugar intake that aims to help countries limit sugar consumption and address public health issues such as obesity and tooth decay. The action follows increasing concern that consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, “may result in both reduced intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories and an increase in total caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).” 

The organization also cites concern about the role free sugars play in the development of dental disease, noting that they are the most prevalent NCDs globally despite the treatment and prevention improvements of the last decade. WHO estimates that the cost to treat dental disease—5 to 10 percent of the health budgets in many industrialized countries—would exceed the financial resources available for all health care for children in most lower- income countries.

While WHO’s 2002 guidance set a maximum limit of 10 percent of daily calories from sugar, WHO now suggests that a reduction to less than 5 percent of daily calories from sugar would “have additional benefits.”The suggested limits would “apply to all monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates.” Comments will be accepted until March 31, 2014. See WHO News Release, March 5, 2014.