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Caloric sweetener use grows worldwide; soft drinks are chief culprit, study shows

CHAPEL HILL -- Use of caloric sweeteners, including sugar, has grown markedly around the world over the past 40 years, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.

In the United States, UNC scientists found increasing consumption of beverages, including soft drinks and sugared fruit drinks, was a major contributor to the burgeoning use of such sweeteners, which nutritionists believe contribute to unhealthy obesity. Obesity boosts the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other illnesses.

A report on the study appears in the November issue of Obesity Research, a professional journal published by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. Authors are Dr. Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the UNC schools of public health and medicine and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center, and Samara Joy Nielsen, a nutrition doctoral student.

"Over the past several years, a number of studies have emerged that indicated how soft drink and fruit drink intake are adversely linked with adolescent and adult weight gain in the United States and Europe," Popkin said. "Our new study shows that the large increase in added sugar is not restricted to these few very high-income countries but is a worldwide phenomenon."

Also, until now, no food-related research has shown specifically which foods are responsible for the large increases in added sugar in the United States, he said.

"This study clearly documents for this country that the increase in added sugar intake between 1977 and 1996 is caused mainly by soft drinks and fruit drinks," Popkin said. "These calorically sweetened beverages account for 66 calories out of the total per capita caloric increase of 83 calories over this period, or close to 80 percent of the increase in caloric intake from these sweeteners."

Nielsen and Popkin analyzed food data from 103 countries in 1962 and 127 countries in 2000, al
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Contact: David Williamson
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
20-Nov-2003


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