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The top sugar-consuming nations and what they are doing to cut back
There has been a big debate about sugar in the news for some time now, from how sugar-laden treats are advertised to what variations of sugar are best for our health. Although the UK is one of the top offending nations for excessive sugar intake, we aren’t the only ones guilty of consuming too much of the sweet stuff.
In this article, we look at the top three sugar-consuming countries and what they are doing to tackle their nation’s excessively high sugar intake.
How much is too much sugar?
When we think of sugar, we generally think of junk food and fizzy drinks. But sugar is actually far more prevalent than that and can be found in a wealth of foods, good and bad, in different forms.
Fructose, glucose, corn syrup, fruit juice, honey, and sucrose are just some of the different forms of sugar out there, with some being obtained naturally while others have been created artificially to mimic the properties of sugar.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the “recommended limit for the daily dose of sugar for improved health is around 11 grams” (2.75 tsp.), with WHO also recommending that this number not exceed 25g per day (5.75 tsp.).
To put that daily dose into perspective, a medium-sized apple contains 10g of sugar, while a standard can of Red Bull contains 26g. With the grams of sugar quickly adding up across both healthy and non-healthy food items, it’s easy to see how we can exceed our daily sugar intake without knowing it, even if we try to avoid it.
The world’s top sugar-consuming nations 2019
The above table highlights the amount of sugar consumed by the average person of that country per day, and let’s be honest, the results are pretty alarming. It seems it’s not enough to snack on fruit and choose the low-sugar option of our favourite foods. Even with these thoughtful diet choices in mind, our sugar intake across the world is still excessively high.
For me, however, the question is not only, why are these nation’s sugar intakes are so high? But also, what they are doing to tackle their excessive sugar consumption?
#1 United States
According to Healthy Food America, the United States’ high sugar consumption can be primarily attributed to sugary drinks, whether that’s soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, coffee, and more, with the majority of Americans consuming at least one sugary drink per day.
With an abundance of sugary drink brands on the market compared to other smaller countries, it comes as no surprise that “nearly 10% of all calories consumed by teenagers and young adults are just from sugary drinks” or that “almost half (46%) of added sugars Americans consume come from sugary drinks”.
Referred to as an ‘epidemic’, obesity rates in the US continue to rise, with one of the root causes being the US’ relationship with food and emotional eating, says Chicago Health Online. “If you think about ads on television, they make food look savoury, and they advertise it in such a way that it’s linked with very emotional things. Think about Thanksgiving dinner. It’s linking food with togetherness, family and feelings of happiness, closeness, warmth.”
It's for reasons like this that many health officials believe the US would benefit more from mindful lifestyle changes that help create a healthy relationship with food and educate individuals about what they are eating, rather than short-term diets where the only focus is losing weight. One example of this was Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move programme, which looked to reduce childhood obesity and encourage healthy lifestyles in children.
Surprising to see so high up on the list, Germany is one of the world’s biggest offenders for consuming the sweet stuff. But in actual fact, 52% of Germans are overweight, and there are two concerning factors surrounding this.
Again, one of the top reasons is sugary drinks, with the average person consuming 2.5 litres of the stuff a week – three times more than the Greeks. Their soft drinks are also enticingly cheap, so much so that it’s not uncommon for people from neighbouring countries to drive across the border to purchase bargain soft drinks in bulk.
The other reason for high obesity rates in Germany is due to poor nutritional labelling and a lack of a sugar tax. There are calls for advertising laws surrounding junk food to be tighter in Germany from health officials, as well as ‘understandable’ food labelling such as the traffic light system, and incentives for the food industry to develop healthier recipes.
#3 The Netherlands
Another surprisingly high sugar-consuming nation is The Netherlands. Although two-thirds of 14 to 16-year-olds in Amsterdam walk or cycle to school, many youths in The Netherlands are still overweight. But while The Netherlands may be a leading nation of sugar consumption, the population is not particularly overweight, at least not compared to some of the other countries listed topping the leader board.
“Obesity is less of an issue amongst the Dutch population than it is in many other countries which did not score as highly on the Euromonitor indexes,” says IamExpat. “The role sugar- and fat-rich diets play in extreme weight gain depends on a number of variables, including lifestyle habits and the form in which these nutrients are present in food.
“Yet according to the Netherlands Ministry for Public Health and the Environment, a quarter of the food consumed by the Dutch population fails to qualify as ‘basic foodstuffs’. In other words, it is made up of highly-refined products such as alcohol, prepared sauces, soft drinks and snacks. These tend to contain high quantities of refined sugars.”
With type-2 diabetes a growing issue in The Netherlands as well as climbing obesity rates, health officials have started trying to educate the younger generation about food through school workshops and healthy lifestyle programmes.
Many schools across the country have banned fruit juice, only allowing children to bring in milk or water, as well as asking parents to prepare healthy, vegetable-heavy lunches for their children at home. The schools even encourage students to bring in healthy treats for birthdays, such as creatively chopped-up fruit in the shape of an animal.
In terms of fitness, more schools across the country are implementing exercise classes after school. Although most Dutch school children will do PE twice a week, a lot of schools put on extra evening classes that are more varied and appealing, such as judo, basketball and dancing.
How does the United Kingdom compare?
I’m quite relieved to see the UK further down on the list, although still, making it into the top 10 of sugar-consuming nations is nothing to be proud of!
Compared to other countries, it seems the UK is pretty good at enforcing regulations and restrictions when it comes to food, while also encouraging healthy lifestyles and exercise.
Although not an enforced regulation, most supermarkets voluntarily use the traffic light system on their own-branded goods and we also have a sugar tax. As well as this, we also have the likes of Sugarwise, a ‘certification body for sugar, calorie and carbohydrate claims’ which helps to verify products that meet the WHO sugar guidelines.
In terms of encouraging healthy lifestyles, we have the weight loss organisations Slimming World and Weight Watchers, both of which successfully help people to lose weight, learn more about nutrition and build a healthy relationship with food. Another example of this is the NHS’ public health programme Change4Life, which was launched in the UK back in 2009. The programme offers tips and tricks for becoming more active as well as how to eat better and cut down on sugar.
Change4Life isn’t the only public health programme endorsed by the NHS – there are also a variety of exercise-focused programmes, including Couch to 5K, which looks to get people from being a ‘couch potato’ to being able to run 5 kilometres in just 9 weeks.
Are consumers entirely to blame?
Although weight loss and lifestyle-changing programmes are great, I don’t feel the blame is entirely on the consumer. There is certainly more the UK and other countries could be doing to cut down on the sweet stuff, but I think the problem mostly lies with food and drink manufacturers.
As a healthy drinks manufacturer myself with an emphasis on low sugar and natural ingredients, I think other British manufacturers need to be doing more to help in the fight against sugar. A large part of the modern-day zeitgeist is that people are more health-conscious than ever before, and I truly believe that if other companies don’t follow suit, then they will be either left behind or even boycotted.
You only have to look at some of the ethical campaigns out there to see how powerful these causes can be. Take Greenpeace’s ‘Save Rang-tan’ campaign for example. The anti-palm oil project only recently gained in momentum in August 2018. Now, a great deal of the population is behind the movement and avoiding products containing palm oil. And unsurprisingly, lots of companies who use palm oil are looking for ethical alternatives to avoid being ostracised.
With health concerns and obesity levels getting out of control, I believe it’s only a matter of time before sugar-ridden food and drink products are taken off the shelves. Consumers should be able to decide how much sugar they put into their bodies, which is why I created Kolibri. Whether you want to sweeten your drink a little or a lot, the choice is yours with Kolibri’s sweetening drops which are made with 100% natural agave.
You can learn more about Kolibri’s quality ingredients and aromatic flavours here.