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A snapshot of New Zealand sugar intake from the latest Adult National Nutrition Survey

02 / 04 / 15

By Associate Professor Winsome Parnell

Our latest National Nutrition Survey (funded by the Ministry of Health) provided updated insight on our sugar intakes as a nation. Below are three key findings:

New Zealander’s sucrose consumption remains moderate

Despite the fact that our media often imply otherwise, New Zealanders are consuming a moderate level of sucrose that’swithin the WHO recommendation for added sugars:  below 10% of our total energy intake. Sucrose consumption can be used as a proxy for measuring added sugar intake, and sucrose intakes declined between 1997 and 2008/09, from a median of 53g/day to 48g/day. That’s about a teaspoon less per person a day - nearly 2kgs less a year! This decline was statistically significant for males, though smaller and not statistically significant in females.

The latest adult nutrition survey also indicates a reduction in the proportion of sucrose from non-alcoholic beverages and sweets, and an increase in the proportion of sucrose from fruit, compared with 1997.

Our total sugars intake has declined

There is much debate as to what’s a more important measure of sugar intakes – total or added/’free’ sugars. In New Zealand, both total sugars and total sucrose intakes declined from 1997 to 2008/09. The total amount of sugar adults consumed decreased from a median of 114g/day in 1997 to 107g/day in 2008/09.

New Zealanders may be enjoying more fruit

There is some evidence that recommendations on fruit consumption are being met by more New Zealanders. When New Zealand men and women were asked in 2008/09 how many servings of fruit they ate on average each day, significantly more said they were eating two or more serves a day than when asked the same question in 1997.

Certainly the proportion of sucrose obtained from fruit nearly doubled between 1997 and 2008/09 (from 9%-16.4%), although this could partly be due to the proportion from non-alcoholic beverages and sweets decreasing as well. 

It’s encouraging that within the context of a decreasing sucrose intake (at least in males), fruit was the only source of sucrose that increased proportion-wise in our diets, and it increased across all age and gender groups within the total population.  The proportion of sucrose decreased between 1997 and 2008/09 from both non-alcoholic beverages (from 23% to 16.4%) and sweets (from 29% to 23%).

Winsome Parnell was the Nutrition Director for the 2008/09 Adult Nutrition Survey and previous national nutrition surveys.  She is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Otago’s Department of Human Nutrition and a former independent advisor to the Sugar Research Advisory Service.