e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)

Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain in adults

Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of noncommunicable diseases, including 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.

Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is high in many parts of the world and is suggestive of poor dietary quality, as sugar-sweetened beverages contain sugars such as sucrose or fructose, often in large amounts, which contribute to the overall energy density of diets. The calories provided by sugar-sweetened beverages have little nutritional value and may not provide the same feeling of fullness that solid food provides. As a result, total energy intake may increase which can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

WHO has developed guidance on free sugars* intake, as shown below, based on the impact of free sugars intake on weight gain and dental caries. Current evidence suggests that increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain. Therefore, reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages would also reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain in adults.

* 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

Last update:

18 July 2017 09:32 CEST

Category 2 intervention

Systematic review(s) have been conducted but no recent guidelines yet available that have been approved by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee

Global targets

Implementation of this intervention may contribute to the achievement of the following targets:

Global NCD targets

Target 6: A 25% relative reduction in the prevalence of raised blood pressure or contain the prevalence of raised blood pressure, according to national circumstances

Target 7: Halt the rise in diabetes and obesity