Food and drinks are sweeter and more harmful now than 10 years ago: study

A new study published last week revealed that the amount of added sugar and non-nutritive (or artificial) sweeteners in foods and beverages has increased over the past decade around the world, raising new global health concerns. Artificial sweeteners are often marketed globally as a healthier and more beneficial alternative to sugar, as they supposedly do not increase a person’s calorie intake and retain the same sweetness of refined sugar. However, previous studies have indicated that increased sweetness from both sugar and artificial sweeteners is linked to health risks such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay, considering the current study’s findings on sweeter foods and drinks are of significant concern.

For their study, published in the journal public health nutritionThe researchers analyzed market sales data from around the world and specifically checked the amount of added sugar and non-nutritive sugar in food and beverage packages between 2007 and 2019. Analyzing the data, the scientists found that over the past decade , and especially in middle-income countries such as China and India and in the Asia-Pacific region (including Australia), food and beverage they have become substantially sweeter than they were ten years ago. Artificial sweeteners in beverages increased 36% in volumes per person in this period, while the amount of added sugar in packaged foods increased 9% in the same period. These are well beyond the recommended numbers of daily sugar intake.

The researchers in their work also delve into how governments, realizing the harm that added sugars can cause, are trying to curb them by introducing regulations. However, scientists warn, this can often result in the unintended consequence of an increase in artificial sweeteners, for which regulatory standards have not yet been established. The researchers point to the long-term health risks of this substitution of added sugar with artificial sweeteners: They can influence the palate for sweetness, encouraging humans to incorporate even more sugar into their diets. Some artificial sweeteners are also harmful to the environment as they cannot be effectively removed from wastewater; And since they are used almost exclusively in ultra-processed and industrialized foods, they can increase people’s chances of developing dangerous health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.


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The researchers therefore highlight how official health regulations can sometimes have unintended consequences that need to be considered with much more scrutiny. For example, they found how in countries where institutional regulations on added sugar were high, there was a higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages that used artificial sweeteners. So instead of leaving an open field for artificial substitutions to take over, the researchers suggest that governments should more proactively encourage people to control the amount of overall sweetness they consume every day. Otherwise, the regulations would only lead to what the researchers call a “health halo,” where consumers will be tricked into consuming more sweetness, with serious long-term health consequences.

Interestingly, middle-income countries alone account for more than 50% of this global increase in the amount of sweetness in foods and beverages, while some high-income countries, such as the US, have shown a decline in consumption of added sugar and artificial sweeteners. in the same period. In addition, since added sugars and artificial sweeteners are mainly found in ultra-processed foods, a significant part of their number is increasing in only one part of the world and also points to other issues of concern, such as food and nutritional inequalities between countries. developed and developing. A poignant reminder of this imbalance and inequality is the rampant addiction to soft drinks in Latin American countries like Mexico, where it is sometimes easier to get a bottle of Coca-Cola than drinking water.

So the study not only raises new concerns about increasing sweetness in daily food intake, but is also a reminder of how corporate profit margins drive global nutritional inequality. writing in The conversation About their study, the researchers explained that one reason for this nutritional inequality between high- and middle-income countries is the saturation of existing markets for processed foods and beverages in the former. To continue their expansion, the corporations, which typically originate from higher-income countries, that manufacture these foods and beverages are now being forced to look to middle-income countries. The researchers point to the “double standard in sweetening the food supply” displayed by these corporations, “with manufacturers offering less sweet and ‘healthier’ products in richer countries.”

Coca-Cola’s precedence over water in Mexico is not an isolated incident of food corporations promoting unhealthy diets to increase profits at the expense of the health of residents of middle-income countries. Data from the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey published in 2018 revealed that less than half of all Indians ate a balanced diet, rather than substituting packaged foods for regular cooked meals. According to a study co-authored by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and published last year, 68% of packaged foods in India contain excessive amounts of sugar and salt, much more what is considered healthy. Packaged foods, and in particular instant noodles, have overtaken cooked and balanced meals in other Asian countries as well, where they are often cheaper and require less effort to prepare, even altering dietary practices among children. Even in India, an integral part of the junk diet is made up of Maggi, a brand of instant noodles from Nestlé, the world’s largest manufacturer of processed foods, which reportedly acknowledged in an internal document that more than 60% of its products They were “unhealthy”.

The new study on the rise in global sweetness in food and beverages corroborates the fact that food manufacturers in higher-income countries have had a role to play in perpetuating a global nutritional imbalance. Despite some high-income countries adopting healthier diets, middle-income countries alone account for a global rise in increased sweetness in foods and beverages.

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