A recent study conducted by researchers at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto found that, of 3,178 meals sourced from 10 fast-food and seven sit-down restaurants, 50 per cent are found to exceed the WHO’s proposed daily recommendation for sugar intake.
The WHO recommends that added sugar not make up more than five per cent of daily dietary consumption — a 50 per cent drop from the older guideline published in the early 2000s, which recommended that it make up less than 10 per cent.
Mary Scourboutakos, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at the Department of Nutritional Sciences, says that consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to long-term potential harm, such as causing obesity and tooth decay.
Scourboutakos’s research focuses on added sugar, otherwise known as free sugar, which is “table sugar added to foods and drinks by the cook or consumer and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.” The research is important as there is an ongoing obesity epidemic in Canada: one in four children and youth in Canada is found to be overweight or obese.
Obese children are much more likely to experience health conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure, which were previously seen only among adults.
Restaurants offer a mix of unhealthy and healthy options on their menus, varying in the amount of sugar, but it remains unknown to researchers whether or not children choose the healthy options over the unhealthy ones. In their research, they recommend incentivising children to select the healthy options, such as negative incentive of refraining from selling toys with meals that do not meet nutritional criteria.
However, as profit-driven organizations, restaurants are likely to continue the unhealthy options due to continual demand and preferences of consumers. Until we, as consumers, make a clear decision to not have these options made available to us, our children may continue to fall into the temptation of soda and deep-fried food.
In addition, Scourboutakos warns against consuming food that claims to be sugar-free, such as sugar-free cola, because “artificial sweeteners make you crave for more sugar.” Thus, parents and children would be better off consuming naturally flavoured food.
When asked about the current state of school meals, Scourboutakos says, “While recently, it is included in the provincial legislation to ensure the [nutritional] quality of meals in school canteens, we know little in whether it is actually being implemented.” She added that there has been much wider discussion and active implementation of new measures in the United States, though some new ones have yet to be successful.