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Are dietary sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages associated with weight gain?

In 2014 the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) released its draft report concerning carbohydrate consumption and health. On the basis of evidence from trials that assessed energy intake in relation to sugars consumption, and the body of evidence around dental caries incidence associated with free sugars consumption, a draft recommendation was set that energy intake from free sugars should be no greater than 5%.


The systematic literature reviews of carbohydrate and cardiometabolic health that underpin these recommendations indicate that there are relatively few high quality studies of the impact of dietary sugars on weight control, and of these, even fewer have been undertaken within the UK. The majority of the studies synthesized had been undertaken in the USA, which compared with the UK, has a much higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages generally, and which tends to use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetening agent rather than sugar beet or cane-derived sucrose. Some have argued that both of these practices are much more detrimental to health, in terms of energy intake regulation and metabolic health. Furthermore, there has been a paradoxical decline in sugars consumption in the UK and elsewhere over the past 3 or so decades and yet rates of obesity have continued to increase. However, it may be that sources of sugars have changed in the UK diet over this time frame, and it is known that consumption of fruit juices, fruit drinks and other calorically sweetened beverages has increased markedly.

A number of influential reviews and reports have asserted that consumption of calorically, or sugar-sweetened beverages promote weight gain, although the issue is still contentious and definitive proof is lacking.

This PhD project intends to address these issues. This will be undertaken through investigation of existing large dietary datasets, including the UK Women’s Cohort Study and the National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (NDNS RP), which is the key UK survey of dietary habits and nutritional status of individuals aged over 1.5 years.

Specific objectives

  • To test the hypothesis that individuals with a high consumption of dietary ugars, and in particular free sugars are more susceptible to weight gain than low consumers.
  • To test the hypothesis that consumers of calorically sweetened beverages gain more weight over time than non-consumers, or consumers of non- or low-calorically sweetened beverages



Dr Victoria J Burley 
Dr Charlotte E Evans
Dr Darren C Greenwood

Funding availability
This opportunity is only open to UK nationals or EU students according to the restrictions placed by the funding body.

This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. If successful, this research will be part funded by the University, and part funded by industry. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. The funding is available to citizens of a number of European countries (including the UK).

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