Australians are inadvertently consuming more sugar and sweetener than they were 15 years ago, as manufacturers hike up the amount they slip into food and drinks. 

The levels of added sugars in packaged foods across the Asia Pacific region increased by 39 per cent between 2007 and 2019, according to a study by Deakin University. 

Over the same timeframe, the amount of artificial sweeteners in drinks increased by 47 per cent – a cause for concern when it comes to people’s health, lead researcher Cherie Russell said.

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“People may think that artificially sweetened food and drinks are healthier than sugar sweetened products, but these additives are also linked to poor health outcomes, including weight gain, changes to the gut and even cancer,” Ms Russell said.

“You only find artificial sweeteners in ultra-processed foods, which is ‘junk food’.” 

Drinks being loaded with artificial sweetener does not correlate with a drop-off in the amount of sugar in them, according to the study.

Rather, added sugars in drinks increased by 14 per cent in the Asia Pacific over the study period, showing companies are increasingly using sugars and artificial sweeteners in their products.

That was also the case for packaged food, in which the level of artificial sweeteners increased by 39 per cent.

“In the main, food companies are using more artificial sweeteners in their products but they’re not using less sugar,” Ms Russell said.

“This is a worrying trend as eating sweet food can influence our palates and encourage us to want more sweet food.

“It is of particular concern for children who are still developing their lifelong taste preferences.”

The findings reveal national food regulations, which are designed to reduce the amount of sugar in people’s diets, were not working, Ms Russell said. 

Worldwide, added sugars in packaged foods increased by nine per cent over the study period, while they decreased in drinks by 12 per cent, reflecting a significant drop off in the United States.

Artificial sweeteners increased by three per cent in food globally, and by 36 per cent in drinks. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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