In July 2022, new research from SWEET Work Package 4 was shared at the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour’s 29th Annual Meeting held in Porto, Portugal. Lisa Heggie, PhD student working as part of SWEET Work Package 4 and University College London’s Obesity Research Group presented work titled: ‘Change and stability in free sugar intake by British children from the Gemini cohort’.

‘Free sugar’ is defined as all added sugars and those naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children and adults consume less than 10% of their total daily energy intake from free sugar, and advises this be reduced further to less than 5% for optimal health. Previous research has indicated consumption in excess of these recommendations may be linked with increased adiposity development and poorer dental health in adults and older adolescents. Currently, research on free sugar intake in the early stages of life is scarce, however, in the United Kingdom, it is recommended that infants and toddlers younger than two years old avoid sugary foods and beverages.

Findings from Work Package 4 indicate that toddlers and children in the UK may be exceeding WHO’s guidelines for free sugar intake, with pure fruit juices being one of the largest contributing food types to this intake at both of these early developmental stages of life. UCL’s results show that free sugar intake is likely to increase between toddlerhood – examined using data from study participants at two years of age – and middle-childhood (examined when children were seven years of age). Further, toddlers who were high consumers of free sugar in toddlerhood continued to be high consumers in middle-childhood.

The data used to inform this research was collected as part of the Gemini study – a population-based cohort study of twins born in England and Wales, led by Dr Clare Llewellyn. Gemini was established in 2007 to understand the genetic and environmental influences on eating behaviour in early life. The Gemini study possesses the largest contemporary dietary dataset for toddlers in the United Kingdom, captured using detailed three-day diet diaries.

The Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour is an organisation which aims to advance scientific research in the area of food and fluid intake, and the associated biological, psychological and social processes. Having attended the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour’s 29th Annual Meeting in person, Lisa shared her findings and discussed SWEET’s wider work with global researchers interested in sugar and sweeteners. Lisa looks forward to progressing and publishing this research over the next few months, with plans to investigate the links between free sugar intake in the early stages of life and outcomes of adiposity development and sweet-taste preferences in childhood.