As added sugar intake has increased over the past 27 years, so has body weight, according to a new study from the University of Minnesota.

weightgain-featured.jpgResearchers examined trends in the height, weight and diet of adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and found that an upswing in the amount of added sugars consumed corresponded with weight gain in both men and women.

Wang and her colleagues conducted their analysis using data from the Minnesota Heart survey, which collected data on adults ages 25-74 over six time periods from 1980-82 through 2007-09.

The study found that, among women, average BMI increased over time, until it leveled off from 2000-02 to 2007-09. The same pattern was detected in added sugar intake for women. For men, BMI continued to increase over the entire time period, while calories from added sugars declined slightly (10.5 percent) between the 2000-02 and 2007-09 surveys. Men’s overall intake of added sugars, however, increased by 37.8 percent between the first and last survey.

“Although it declined slightly after 2000-02, the consumption of added sugars remained high among the Minnesotan residents studied,” said Wang.

While previous studies have examined the connection between sugar and weight gain, this one focused exclusively on added sugars — sugars that do not occur naturally in foods, but are introduced during processing, preparation or at the table.

“There is limited data available looking at how added sugar intake is related to body mass index (BMI),” said Huifen Wang, a PhD student at the University’s School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

The fact that added sugar and weight largely paralleled one another for almost 30 years suggests the potential for a connection between the two factors.

“Although other lifestyle factors should be considered as an explanation for the upward trend of BMI, public health efforts should advise limiting added sugar intake,” Wang said.

According to the American Heart Association, that intake should be limited to no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day for most women, and up to 150 per day for most men.

And while cutting back on added sugars is advised, more research is needed to determine whether the added sugars actually cause weight gain.

“According to the 2010 Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, it is also not yet clear whether the relationship between BMI and added sugar intake is due to additional calories or the added sugars, per se,” Wang said.

Wang reported the study’s findings in Atlanta recently at an American Heart Association conference.