e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)

Reducing free sugars intake in adults to reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading causes of death and were responsible for 38 million (68%) of the world’s 56 million deaths in 2012. More than 40% (i.e. 16 million) of NCD-related deaths were premature (i.e. under the age of 70 years) and the majority of premature deaths (82%) occurred in low and middle-income countries. Modifiable risk factors such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are some of the most common causes of NCDs, including obesity.

Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of NCDs, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. Once considered a problem only in high income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.

Dental caries causes pain, anxiety, functional limitation (including poor school attendance and performance in children) and social handicap through tooth loss. The negative health effects of dental caries are cumulative, tracking from childhood to adulthood and most dental caries is now occurring in adults.

Free sugars* contribute to the overall energy density of diets and higher intakes of free sugars threaten the nutrient quality of the diet by providing significant energy without specific nutrients, leading to unhealthy weight gain and increased risk of obesity and various NCDs, particularly dental caries which is the most prevalent NCD globally.

* Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

WHO recommendations

WHO recommends a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the lifecourse.

In both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake.

WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake.


Additional information for these recommendations can be found in the guidance summary and in the guideline, under 'WHO documents' below.

WHO documents

WHO documents

GRC-approved guidelines
Other guidance documents


Systematic reviews used to develop the guidelines
Related systematic reviews
Clinical trials