Cardiovascular Risk Factors / Diagnostics Industry / Disease States / Health

The role of fructose in managing the growing obesity crisis

The role of fructose in managing the growing obesity crisisBetween the years 1993-2012 the obesity levels of men and women situated in England significantly increased, with the percentage of men who were obese jumping from 13.2 % to 24.4 %, as well as the women’s rate also increasing a considerable amount from 16.4 % to 25.1 %. Obesity brings with it a multitude of health complications, not only causing the individual distress, but it is also estimated that health problems associated with being overweight or obese costs the NHS more than £5 billion every year (1) . This has triggered governments to evaluate policies and promotions to reduce the UK population’s waistline, including better education and better food labelling, public fitness campaigns and so called “fat taxes”, as well as investing into obesity-related research.

Numerous studies have linked fructose intake with the rise in obesity that is occurring throughout most of Europe and the USA, based on two key findings:

  • Detrimental metabolic effects have been observed after excessive isolated fructose intakes (both human and animal) by way of mechanistic intervention studies.
  • Studies focusing on food disappearance data have also highlighted a parallel between the increase in obesity and the increase in the consumption of fructose in the form of added sugars in the diet.

However, the majority of these mechanistic interventional studies were performed by feeding study participants large quantities of pure fructose; this is not the way a person would naturally consume fructose. In reality, fructose intake would be ingested along with glucose; making the studies not entirely applicable to real word consideration.

The food consumption data derived from such studies does not accurately reflect food consumption in practice, therefore cannot be solely used as evidence of a link between fructose intake and obesity.

A new review of the literature published in ‘Nutrition Research Reviews(1), allowed researchers to assess the effects of fructose through the consumption of a mixed carbohydrate diet.  Authors noted that current studies do not support the idea that fructose (as consumed by the majority of populations) is solely involved in metabolic syndrome, and that energy overconsumption is much more important to consider as a driver of the obesity epidemic.

Researchers noted that the public health recommendations and policies aiming to tackle obesity, such as the “implementation of taxes on sugary foods and beverages as suggested is not supported by solid scientific evidence, and can be expected to be largely insufficient to address the whole issue of energy overconsumption.”

Rather, the authors are advocating policies aimed at reducing public consumption of energy-dense foods which are readily available in shops, restaurants and fast food outlets, stating that: “the food production and service industries would be welcome to play a responsible role by gradually limiting the amount of fat and added sugars in ready-to-eat or to-drink products to reduce energy density. In addition, effective policies that facilitate and promote healthier diets and nutritious food alternatives should be publicly promoted”.

As stated it would be unlikely a so called “fat-tax” will have any real benefit and may just further impact the people it is trying to help. Certainly encouraging food production companies to decrease the amount of added sugar that is placed into products would be a start, however a public information campaign that emphasises improved lifestyle, exercise and the negative health risks for the “growing” population will be of more benefit for both adults and children.

References:

1.    Reducing obesity and improving diet
2.    Nutrition Research Reviews

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