Most U.S. adults are eating too much sugar and that’s linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease, according to a new government study.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed nutrition surveys of U.S. adults from the past couple of decades and found most were getting more sugar than the daily limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
What’s more, participants who got more than the recommended amount of calories from added sugar were more likely to die of heart disease, compared to those who typically got less added sugar.
“We know cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.,” Quanhe Yang told Reuters Health. “There are a lot of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Many of them are modifiable.”
Yang, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the CDC in Atlanta, said one factor that can be modified is the amount of added sugar a person eats.
Unlike sugars that occur naturally in fresh ingredients like fruit, added sugars are incorporated into food during processing and preparation.
Researchers and doctors have identified added sugars as a problem spot in American diets, but there are conflicting guidelines over how much adults can safely eat.
Yang and colleagues write in JAMA Internal Medicine that the Institute of Medicine recommends added sugars make up less than 25 percent of a person’s daily calories, and the WHO suggests 10 percent as the limit.
The American Heart Association, on the other hand, sets the limit for added sugars at 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories per day for men.
For the new study, the researchers used data from a series of studies that periodically asked U.S. adults about their diets between 1988 and 2010. More than 31,000 people were surveyed during that period.
The authors found adults got an average of 16 percent of their calories from added sugars between 1988 and 1994. That increased to about 17 percent between 1999 and 2004, but fell to about 15 percent between 2005 and 2010.
During the 2005 to 2010 span, about 71 percent of U.S. adults were getting 10 percent or more of their calories from added sugars. About 10 percent were getting at least 25 percent of their calories from added sugars.
The most common sources of added sugar were sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and candy.
The researchers also looked at data on 11,733 people who had been asked about their diets in the early study years and were tracked through 2006. Over about 15 years, 831 died of cardiovascular disease, which includes conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and artery disease.
Compared to people who got less than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar, those who got between 10 and 25 percent of their calories from added sugar were 30 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease during that time. Those who got 25 percent or more of their calories from added sugar were more than twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
That increased risk couldn’t be explained by differences in people’s age, sex, education, smoking habits, physical activity, medications, blood pressure, weight or other components of their diets.
In an accompanying editorial, Laura Schmidt of the University of California, San Francisco wrote that the new study lends more research to the theory that added sugar is not only a marker of an unhealthy lifestyle, but may itself be the cause of some health conditions.
“What’s really interesting and important for readers to understand is they linked sugar consumption – independent of all other risk factors – to cardiovascular disease,” Schmidt told Reuters Health.
“We’re hearing a lot about sugar these days,” she said. “The reason is because we’re seeing an impact on health above and beyond its role in obesity.”