Sugar and diabetes

In 2016, the World Health Organisation estimated that almost 10% of all adults in China  – about 110 million people – were living with diabetes. At the time, it warned that without urgent action to reduce lifestyle risk factors like unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity, that number would be expected to increase to 150 million by 2040 – with major health, social and economic consequences (14).

Despite what some people may think, sugar hasn’t been established as a cause of type 2 diabetes (15).

Diabetes is a chronic disease occurring when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body cannot use the insulin it produces (16).

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune reaction where the body’s defence system attacks the cells that produce insulin. The exact causes of this are not known yet, but are linked to a combination of genetics and environmental conditions.

Type 2 normally occurs from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. It usually occurs in adulthood, however it’s now increasingly frequent in children. Type 2 diabetes comprises the majority of people with diabetes around the world, and is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity although other factors such as genetics, diet and ethnicity may also play a role (16). If you have Type 2 diabetes, the advice is to eat a healthy balanced diet, not smoke, be physically active and achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Speak to your doctor if you want to find out more.

Note: Scientific evidence contained within a report published by the UK Government’s expert nutrition group (SACN), found no direct link between total sugars intake and diabetes. However it suggests a greater risk is associated with a higher intake of sugars-sweetened beverages (15).


  • Sugars are an important source of energy with glucose being the most important for the body.