The federal government needs to establish daily sugar intake guidelines and set limits on the amount of sugar that can be added to food, leading health associations across the country say.
Ottawa has come under increasing pressure to regulate sugar since the publication of a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that concluded people who get 25 per cent or more of their daily calories from added sugar are three times more likely to die of heart disease.
Earlier this week, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada announced it will unveil new recommendations on sugar consumption as early as this spring and called on the federal government to set broad guidelines.
Now, the Canadian Medical Association, the Childhood Obesity Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Health Research and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta are adding their voices to the call.
Canada has no standard for how much sugar people should limit themselves to in a day.
On Friday, a spokesman for Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the department will review the JAMA study, but ruled out setting limits on sugar added to food or adopting consumption guidelines.
"We're talking about the leading risk for death and disability and [the federal government is] doing nothing," said Norm Campbell, who holds a research chair in hypertension prevention and control.
The government urgently needs to take action in light of mounting research, said Dr. Campbell, who is also a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and a member of the Libin institute.
"At the end of the day, I think we know what we need to do," said Louis Hugo Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association. "We don't need any more studies, but we need to develop a fairly robust national strategy."
Tom Warshawski, pediatrician and chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, said Health Canada is too close to the food industry and appears reluctant to take action to help improve the nutritional quality of the food companies sell. He wants the government to convene a high-level panel of experts to review the evidence and make a recommendation.
"I think Health Canada is not really doing their job," Dr. Warshawski said. "They look for industry to self-regulate."
The food industry can add as much extra sugar as it wants to pop, juice, cereal and other products, which is contributing to an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease that is putting lives in jeopardy and pushing the health care system to the brink, Dr. Campbell said.
The Canadian Beverage Association declined a request for an interview. In a statement, the Canadian Sugar Institute said it disputes the link researchers have made between sugar and disease.
The average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of total calories, according to Statistics Canada. While sugar occurs naturally in fruits and milk, Statistics Canada estimates that more than one-third, or 35 per cent, of the sugar Canadians consume is added by manufacturers to foods.
The Institute of Medicine, an influential independent group that helps set health policy in Canada and the United States, says sugar that is added to food should make up no more than 25 per cent of daily calories. The World Health Organization says added sugars, plus those found naturally in fruit juice, honey and syrups, should make up no more than 10 per cent of calories. The organization is reported to be considering reducing it to 5 per cent.