Sugar seen as key factor behind obesity in Finland
Children as young as two get unhealthy amounts of sugar
Although Finns have been conscientiously cutting down on their consumption of dietary fat, obesity remains a problem in Finland. Calories from sugar are increasingly contributing to Finns’ weight problems.
For instance, a serving of fat-free yoghurt can actually contain more energy than a serving of yoghurt with fat in it, if the former is in a bigger container and has sugar in it.
Energy that is not used is eventually stored in the body as fat, increasing the danger of diabetes and other health problems.
Under current recommendations, fat should account for between 25 and 35 per cent of calories that a person consumes. Most Finns fall within that range. The average for women is 30-32 per cent. For men, the figure is 32-34 per cent.
Men in the southwest of Finland go for more fat, getting between 34 and 36 per cent of their calories from fat, according to a study conducted in 2007 by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
While fat consumption is mostly under control, Finns tend to eat more sugar than they should. A state consultative committee on nutrition says that people should get a maximum ten per cent of their daily energy from sugar.
A majority of Finns exceed this guideline. Men in the east of Finland and women under the age of 55, as well as children have been found to be heavy consumers of sugar.
Most of the sugar that Finns eat or drink is not deliberately added to foods and beverages at the time of consumption; sugar is often used as an ingredient in bread and many other processed foods at the production stage.
Muesli and other breakfast cereals can have more than 20 per cent sugar. Cereals intended for children can have as much as 40 per cent sugar.
THL research professor Suvi Virtanen says that children as young as two are getting more sugar calories than they should. Three-year-olds are already getting 13 per cent of their daily calories from sugar.
“Juices, yoghurt and other sour milk products, sweet milk-based desserts, and ice cream, as well as chocolate, candy, and sweet baked goods”, says Virtanen, listing the sources of sugar.
“Most three-year-olds eat all of these several times a week.”
Six-year-olds get about the same proportion of their energy in the form of sugar as three-year-olds do.
Virtanen notes that a sweet tooth that is established at an early age can lead to a lifelong craving.
The consequences of the trend are apparent. Childhood obesity has increased considerably in the past 30 years, and health risks linked with it are increasingly common.
Later in life the trend can lead to serious health problems.
“Many middle-aged people have moderate disturbances in their sugar metabolism. If people eat much food with a high sugar content, the possibility of illness can grow”, says Pirjo Ilanne-Parikka, head physician of the Finnish Diabetes Association.