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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Trends in sugar supply and consumption in Australia: is there an Australian Paradox?

Wavne Rikkers, David Lawrence, Katherine Hafekost*, Francis Mitrou and Stephen R Zubrick

Author affiliations

Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, PO Box 855, West Perth, WA, 6872, Australia

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:668  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-668

Published: 18 July 2013

Abstract

Background

High consumption of refined carbohydrate, in particular sugar, has been identified as a possible contributory factor in greater risk of excess weight gain. In spite of data limitations, one recent paper suggests that Australian sugar consumption has decreased over the same time period that obesity has increased, a so called ‘Australian Paradox’. Given the significant public health focus on nutrition, we aimed to estimate Australian sugar supply and consumption over recent decades, to determine whether these data could be used to make any conclusions about sugar’s role in obesity.

Methods

Foods high in sugar were identified. Data relating to sugar supply and consumption from 1988 to 2010 were obtained from multiple sources. Using these data we attempted to generate a time series estimate of sugar in Australia’s food supply.

Results

Australia produces and exports sugar from sugar cane and the sugar in imported foods has received little attention. We were unable to produce a reliable and robust estimate of total sugars in the Australian diet due to data limitations and a lack of current data sources. However, available Import data showed large increases in the volume and value of imported sweetened products between 1988 and 2010 to over 30 grams of sugar per person per day. Value estimates of local production of sweetened products also show substantial increases in this period.

Conclusion

The Australian Paradox assertion is based on incomplete data, as it excludes sugar contained in imported processed foods, which have increased markedly. A major Australian public health target is to improve the quality of the food supply, and actions have been set in terms of achieving broader environmental changes. However, evaluation of progress is hampered by lack of high quality data relating to supply and consumption. We recommend the regular collection of comprehensive food supply statistics, which include both local production and imports. This would provide an inexpensive addition to survey data and could assist in monitoring sugar consumption trends in food supply. Such information would also help inform public health policy.

Keywords:
Public health; Sugar; Obesity; Food supply