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WHO to propose lower recommended daily limit for sugar intake

The World Health Organization currently recommends people restrict the amount of sugar they eat and drink to 10 per cent or less of their daily calories, but published reports have said new draft guidelines will lower that target.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The World Health Organization is expected to propose lowering its official recommended daily limit for sugar consumption on Wednesday, a move that is likely to put pressure on Canada to adopt a threshold of its own.

The WHO currently recommends people restrict the amount of sugar they eat and drink to 10 per cent or less of their daily calories, but published reports have said the new draft guidelines will lower that target.

"I can assure you [of] one thing: The recommendation emphasizes less than 10 per cent," said Enrique Jacoby, the regional adviser for healthy eating and active living for the Pan-American Health Organization, the WHO's regional office in the Americas.

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The WHO's recommendations – which will be subjected to a global public consultation before they are finalized – come as evidence mounts that sugar is more dangerous to human health than previously believed.

The United Nations public health arm is also expected to cite evidence of the damage sugar causes to teeth in its draft recommendations.

A landmark study in JAMA Internal Medicine, published last month, found that people who consumed more than a quarter of their daily calories in added sugars nearly tripled their heart-attack risk.

The study prompted a slew of Canadian health-promotion organizations to ask the federal government to set a recommended daily limit for sugar intake, a call Ottawa has so far rebuffed.

One of those groups was the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, which on Monday hosted the first meeting of a panel of 10 nutrition experts, including members from the United Kingdom and Harvard University, to decide whether the HSF should recommend an added sugar threshold and, if so, what it should be.

HSF hopes to publish a final recommendation by the end of August, said Manuel Arango, director of health policy for HSF. "If we, in fact, agree to go ahead with adopting guidelines, then we would also ask the government to consider doing the same, absolutely," he said.

The WHO faced a fierce backlash from the food industry when it set the 10-per-cent ceiling in 2003, something that is likely to happen again this time.

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"I think they [the food industry] are running short of arguments and sympathy from the public in general," Dr. Jacoby said. "There's a greater recognition of the severity of the problem."

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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