Children should not be given fizzy drinks because they contain dangerous amounts of sugar, UN health chiefs said yesterday.
They also warned adults should halve their average intake to six teaspoons a day to avoid obesity, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
The guideline amount has been slashed dramatically amid fears that sugar poses the same threat to health as tobacco. Experts blame it for millions of premature deaths across the world every year.
Graham MacGregor, a London cardiologist and health campaigner, said: ‘Added sugar is a completely unnecessary part of our diets, contributing to obesity, type II diabetes and tooth decay.
‘We have known about the health risks of sugar for years and yet nothing substantial has been done. ‘The new recommendations will be a wakeup call to the Department of Health and the Government to take action by forcing the food industry to slowly reduce the huge amount of sugar added across the board.’
Chief medical officer Sally Davies has already said a tax may be put on calorie-laden food and drink to curb soaring levels of obesity.
Labour suggested last night it would impose a maximum limit on sugar, fat and salt in products marketed at children. The number of obese British adults is expected to double from one in four to one in two by 2050 – at a cost to the economy of £50billion a year. The UN’s World Health Organisation said the crisis was being fuelled by hidden sugar in processed food and drink such as yoghurts, muesli, sauces, fizzy drinks, juice and smoothies.
Last night it published the draft guidelines urging adults to eat no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar a day and to aim for six. And it said children should try for less than six teaspoons and avoid cans of fizzy drink such as Coke, which contains seven spoons.
Francesco Branca, director for nutrition for health and development at WHO, said: ‘Obesity affects half a billion people in the world and it is on the rise.
‘Sugar along with other risk factors might certainly become the new tobacco in terms of public health action. The consumption of a single serving of sugar sweetened soda might actually already exceed the limit for a child. So certainly the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages should be done with great care.
‘It actually is one of the elements that has been more constantly associated to increase weight gain particularly in children.’
The guidelines will now be discussed by academics and medical experts before a final version is published. But Dr Branca said food and drinks manufacturers should drastically alter their products.
A bowl of muesli contains two and a half teaspoons of sugar, a latte has five, a chocolate bar six or seven while some ready-meals have more than eight. Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham said his party was considering setting a legal maximum on the amount of sugar, fat and salt in foods aimed at children.
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