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HEALTH REPORT – March 12, 2003: Sugar and Diet - 2003-03-11

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Sugar comes naturally in foods such as fruit. Sugar is also added to many processed foods and drinks. Now an international report warns people to limit the sugar they eat to no more than ten percent of their daily calories. Calories are a measure of the heat energy in food.

Thirty experts prepared the report for the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Both of these are United Nations agencies.

The report says fifty-six-and-a-half million deaths were reported worldwide in two-thousand-one. The experts blamed sixty percent of these deaths on diseases influenced at least in part by diet. These include heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

The report urges people to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and less salt. And it calls for a limit in the amount of saturated and trans fats in the diet. Food products often identify trans fats by the term "partially hydrogenated."

The food industry, however, criticized the report. In the United States, the National Soft Drink Association says research has found no link between sugar and severe overweight. The group says restricting foods does not work -- people want banned foods all the more. The food industry points out that people gain weight when they take in more energy than they use each day.

In the United States, about one-third of all adults are now considered severely overweight. Children have grown heavier, too.

Last September, the Institute of Medicine -- part of the National Academy of Sciences -- set a suggested limit for added sugars. The institute said no more than twenty-five percent of total calories should come from these sweeteners. At the same time, it also increased its suggested daily amount of exercise to one hour. The international report gives the same advice.

The experts also note that diseases linked to diet and a lack of exercise have spread beyond rich countries. This has happened as many developing countries have made economic gains. When people move into cities, they may eat more foods high in added sugars and fat. And when people earn more, they are more likely to buy a car. That means less exercise if driving replaces walking or riding a bicycle.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.