Public health authorities continue to lower the upper tolerable limit of daily added sugar intake.

Dating back to the original “Dietary Goals for the United States” in 1977, also known as the so-called McGovern Report, leading nutrition scientists didn’t only call for a reduction in meat and other sources of saturated fat and cholesterol, such as dairy and eggs, but also sugar. The goal was to reduce America’s sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of our daily diet.

“The conclusions would hang sugar,” reported the president of the Sugar Association. “The McGovern Report has to be neutralized.” The National Cattlemen’s Association was on its side and, just like Big Sugar, appealed to the Senate Select Committee to withdraw the report.

“The Sugar Industry Empire Strikes Back”—and it appeared to work. When the official U.S. Dietary Guidelines were released in 1980 and again in 1985, it was without a specific limit, like 10 percent. It “said, simply, and in just four words, ‘Avoid too much sugar.’” (Whatever that means.) “In 1990, it went to five words, ‘Use sugars only in moderation,’ and in 1995 to six: ‘Choose a diet moderate in sugars.’” In 2000, it at least went back to limiting intake—specifically, “‘Choose beverages and foods to limit your intake of sugars’ (ten words), but even that was too strong. Under pressure from sugar lobbyists, the government agencies substituted the word ‘moderate’ for ‘limit’ so it read ‘Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars.’” Then, the 2005 guidelines committee dropped the s-word completely, encouraging Americans to “Choose carbohydrates wisely…” Again, what does that mean? If only there were a dietary guidelines committee that could guide us….

The Sugar Association expressed optimism about that 2005 Committee. In its Sugar E-News, it wrote that Sugar Association Incorporated (SAI) “is committed to the protection and promotion of sucrose [table sugar] consumption. Any disparagement of sugar will be met with forceful, strategic public comments”—and it wasn’t kidding. “In 2003, [the World Health Organization] WHO released a joint report with the Food and Agriculture Organization entitled Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases which, for the first time [since the McGovern Report], called for a reduction in sugar intake to under 10% of total dietary energy [caloric] consumption.” The Sugar Association responded by threatening to get the United States to withdraw all funding from the WHO. You can see it yourself in black and white at 2:22 in my video Friday Favorites: The Recommended Daily Added Sugar Intake. The Sugar Association threatened to pressure Congress to withdraw funding from the World Health Organization—polio vaccinations and AIDS medications be damned! Don’t mess with the candy man. The threat was described as “tantamount to blackmail and worse than any pressure exerted by the tobacco lobby.” 

Fifteen years later and 40 years after the first proposed McGovern Report, the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans lays out the 10 percent limit as a key recommendation: “Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars.” This is currently exceeded by every age bracket in the United States starting at age one, as you can see in the graph below and at 2:58 in my video, with adolescents averaging 87 grams of sugar a day. That means the average teen is effectively eating 29 sugar packets a day. 

The Sugar Association describes the 10 percent limit as “extremely low.” Well, I mean, it is only up to about a dozen spoonsful a day. Of course, there is no dietary requirement for added sugar at all, and every single calorie we get from added sugar is a wasted opportunity to get calories from sources that provide nutrition. To the American Heart Association’s credit, it went further by trying to push added sugar intake down to about 6 percent of calories, for which a single can of soda could send you over the limit. That’s an added sugar limit exceeded by 90 percent of Americans.

In 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) released its guidelines for children, recommending they get no more than about six teaspoons per day. In that case, a single serving of nearly a hundred cereals on the U.S. market would exceed the entire recommended daily limit. The AHA recommends no added sugars at all for children under the age of two, a recommendation that’s violated in up to 80 percent of toddlers, as you can see below and at 4:20 in my video

In the United States, “at least 65 countries have implemented dietary guidelines or public health policies to curb sugar consumption to encourage maintenance of healthy body weight.” In the United Kingdom, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition made new recommendations to reduce added sugars down to 5 percent, which is also the direction the World Health Organization is headed. The WHO always seems to be ahead of the curve. Why? Because its policy-making process is at least partially protected “against industry influence.” Unlike governments, which may have competing interests in commerce and trade, “WHO is exclusively concerned with health.”

I spoke at a hearing of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Committee. Watch the highlights and my speech here: Highlights from the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Hearing.

The sugar industry keeps pretty busy, as you’ll see from my recent videos, Friday Favorites: Are Fortified Kids’ Breakfast Cereals Healthy or Just Candy? and Flashback Friday: Sugar Industry Attempts to Manipulate the Science.

Check the related posts below for my other popular videos and blogs on sugar.