Adults and children from the Americas to Western Europe and the Middle East must halve the amount of sugar they consume to lower risk of obesity and tooth decay, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
New guidelines mean people should reduce the amount to less than 10pc of their daily energy intake - or to about 50g or 12 teaspoons of sugar for adults, the UN agency said.
A cut to less than 5pc would be even better at helping prevent chronic diseases linked to poor diets, including heart disease, cancers and diabetes, it added.
"The reason we are focusing on sugar is that we really have seen the important association with weight gain, and obesity is a major public health concern for many countries, an increasing concern," the Director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, Dr Francesco Branca, told a briefing.
The WHO's recommendations cover what are known as free sugars such as glucose and fructose, and sucrose or table sugar added to processed foods and drinks. They do not cover sugar found naturally in fresh fruit, vegetables and milk. The current average in South America was 130g per adult per day, in North and Central America 95g, in Western Europe about 101g, and 90g in the Middle East, Branca said.
Equatorial and southern Africa has the lowest average rate of 30g. "Where do we find free sugars? In reality we find them in a large number of products, in fact in the majority of products," he added. One can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40g (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar, while orange and apple juices have between 24-26g, he said. Sweet drinks are high in calories yet often trick the consumer by not leaving them sated.
"Actually it is very easy to exceed the recommendation of 12 teaspoons if you think of having maybe a bowl of breakfast cereal in the morning, then maybe you have a can of soda sometime during the day."