Published on 1st August 2017


Eating sugary foods might be a common way for people to cheer themselves up, but recent research has revealed a link between high sugar consumption and increased risk of mental health disorders in men. 

Scientists at the Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London found that men who had a daily intake of more than 67g of sugar via sweetened food and drink were more likely after five years to go on to suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, when compared with men who ate less sugar.

It is frequently argued that any association between higher sugar intake and mental health problems may result from reverse causation – in other words, that mental health problems such as anxiety and depression lead to increased sugar intake rather than sugar intake leading to anxiety and depression. Considering that many people use sugary foods to cheer themselves up, this could certainly be seen as feasible.

However, in this study the team looked at dietary intake over more than two decades and incidence of mental health problems, by studying data from the Whitehall Study II, which included 10,308 subjects aged 35-55, of whom 66.9 per cent were men. Over 22 years, participants had completed food frequency questionnaires at four time points. The information from these was used to calculate sugar intake. Data from general health questionnaires and interviews were also used to identify the presence or development of common mental health disorders. 

The study found that even when taking other lifestyle and economic factors into consideration, men who had the highest intake of sugar (more than 67g per day), compared with men who had the lowest intake (less than 39.5g per day), were 23 per cent more likely to develop common mental illnesses five years later. 

Although no such link was found for women, there are other reasons for keeping sugar intake low such as dental health and reducing risk of insulin resistance.


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  1. Knüppel A et al (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 6287.