The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been criticised for maintaining its draft guidelines on sugar, following a year-long consultation around the issue.

Campaign group Action on Sugar has stated it is ‘appalled’ and ‘disappointed’ by the organisation, after it stated it had little evidence to back up a call for the daily intake of sugar to be limited to 5% of energy intake.

The new guideline proposed that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day - as it had recommended in 2002. It also suggested that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits- a ’conditional’ suggestion. 

The sugar organisation said: “There is absolutely NO nutritional requirement for free sugars in our diets, therefore Action on Sugar is disappointed that the 5% recommendation is ‘conditional’.”

WHO said: “Given the nature of existing studies, the recommendation of reducing intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy is presented as “conditional” in the WHO system for issuing evidence-based guidance.

“Few epidemiological studies have been undertaken in populations with a low sugar intake. Only three national population-wide studies allow a comparison of dental caries with sugar intakes of less than 5% of total energy intake versus more than 5%, but less than 10% of total energy intake.

“WHO issues conditional recommendations - even when the quality of evidence may not be strong on issues of public health importance. A conditional recommendation is one where the desirable effects of adhering to the recommendation probably outweigh the undesirable effects, but these trade-offs need to be clarified; therefore, stakeholder dialogue and consultations are needed before the recommendation is implemented as policy.”

Five per cent of total energy intake is equivalent to around 25 grams (around 6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI).

Action on Sugar is now calling for government action to regulate sugar intake.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “We have known about the health risks of sugar for years and yet no effective action has been taken – the World Health Organisation has indicated that we should drastically lower our sugar intake, it is time for the UK government, and governments around the world, to take action NOW.”

Neville Rigby, Action on Sugar advisor, said: “We demand action now via a pledge from whoever forms the next government to bring in effective regulation. This new recommendation is a red card warning for the confectionery and soft drinks trades to curb their appetite for profit, particularly at the expense of children’s health.”