Dr Peter Brukner OAM

2 mins read

  • Dietary sugar is associated with many poor health outcomes for children and adults, including type 2 diabetes.

  • The British Medical Journal has found significant links between high sugar intake and certain cancers, including breast, prostate and pancreatic.

  • As well as limiting sugar to six teaspoons, experts recommend having no more than one sugar-sweetened drink a week.

Last week the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an umbrella review on Dietary sugar consumption and health. An umbrella review looks at previously published systematic reviews (studies that look at all existing research) and meta-analyses (a type of research combining the results of many different studies). In this paper, the authors identified 73 meta-analyses and 83 health outcomes from over 8,000 unique articles.

Sugar and our health

The authors found that sugar consumption had harmful associations with numerous hormonal  and metabolic outcomes, including:

Sugar and our heart

In addition, harmful associations between sugar consumption and heart-related issues were also observed, including

  • Heart disease
  • Deaths from cardiovascular disease 
  • Hypertension in children and adults
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke 

Sugar and cancer

Significant harmful associations between dietary sugar and a high risk of cancer were reported for:

  • Breast cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Overall cancer risk and overall cancer mortality 

Finally, harmful associations were found between sugar consumption and asthma in children, ADHD, bone mineral density, tooth decay, depression, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), intra hepatocellular lipids and death.

What the experts found

The conclusion of the umbrella review was that eating a diet high in sugar, especially sugars that contain fructose, is associated with many poor health outcomes. Evidence for the harmful associations between sugar consumption and changes in body weight (sugar-sweetened beverages), obesity (added sugars), obesity in children (sugar-sweetened beverages), heart disease (sugar-sweetened beverages), and depression (sugar-sweetened beverages) seems to be more reliable than that for other outcomes. 

So, how much sugar should we be consuming?

A recent study found that, on average, Aussies are eating 11 teaspoons of added sugar per day. It’s not surprising – evidence shows that per person, added sugar in drinks has risen 36% globally, and added sugars in packaged food are 9% higher.  

In combination with the WHO and WCRF/AICR recommendations and their findings, the authors of this paper recommend reducing the amount of sugar in our diet to below 25 g/day or six teaspoons a day. They also recommend limiting sugar-sweetened drinks to less than one serving a week (approximately 200-355 mL/week). 

To change sugar consumption patterns, especially for children and adolescents, a combination of widespread public health education and policies worldwide is urgently needed.


British Medical Journal, 05 April 2023, "https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/limit-added-sugar-to-six-teaspoons-a-day-to-improve-health-urge-experts/"

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