The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a public consultation on guidelines for sugar intake – and says our daily limit should be halved.

The consultation, launched this week, comes as the debate about sugar heats up here in the UK, with the Chief Medical Officer calling for a tax on sugar.

In a new draft guideline, the WHO said all people should try to reduce the amount of sugar they consume. It reiterated its 2003 guidance that countries should set an upper limit of 10% of daily calories from sugar – but said the ideal level would be 5%.

WHO said: “Much of the sugars consumed today are ‘hidden’ in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40g (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar.”

Weight gain

Responding to the WHO draft guidance on sugars intake, Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science and health at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Where weight gain is referenced in the draft guidance, this too supports current UK government policy and industry action to reduce calories in the diet. Excess calories, whether from fat, sugars or other nutrients, can result in weight gain, which is why UK food and drink producers are working to reduce calories in their products, many doing so under the UK government’s Responsibility Deal calorie reduction pledge.

“Where a conditional recommendation of a further reduction of sugars intake to below 5% of total energy is made, the report cautions that there is greater uncertainty about the quality of the underpinning science base. WHO emphasises the need for ‘substantial debate and involvement of stakeholders before this recommendation can be adopted as policy’.”

Earlier this week, Dame Sally Davies told a committee of MPs that unless the government was strong with food and drink manufacturers, it was unlikely they would reformulate their products. She said she believed “research will find sugar is addictive”, and that “we may need to introduce a sugar tax”.

The charity Sustain, which advises the government on the food and farming industry, said the UK consumes more than 5,727 million litres of sugary soft drinks a year. Adding a 20p tax for every litre sold would raise more than £1.1bn.