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Doctoral School / UAM

Added Sugars in Processed Foods Increase Frailty in Older Adults

Los azúcares añadidos en alimentos procesados incrementan la fragilidad en adultos mayores


With the data from the Seniors-ENRICA study coordinated by the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), a team of researchers examined the association between the intake of added sugars and the development of frailty in seniors. The results, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are based on a representative sample of the Spanish population aged 60 years or older

A recent publication in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that seniors who consume more added sugars in their diet are at higher risk for frailty.

Martin Laclaustra participated in the study. He is a researcher at the Aragon Foundation for Research and Development (ARAID, IIS-Aragón, and CIBERCV) and collaborated in the analysis of a study that included 1,973 older Spanish adults at the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), CIBERESP, and IMDEA Alimentación.

“Age-associated frailty is a condition resulting from the loss of functional reserve and, among its pathophysiological bases are sarcopenia, or insufficient muscle mass –Laclaustra comments–. Frailty is exhibited in the form of more falls, greater disability, institutionalization, and early death”.

This syndrome has aroused great interest in recent decades for three main reasons.

First, because it is associated with certain characteristics that can be identified through questions and simple tests. Second, because it is highly prevalent in the elderly population. Third, because it is considered reversible by means of a healthy lifestyle, among which physical activity, appropriate diet, or decrease in poly pharmacy are especially important.

“Therefore, it is a potentially avoidable syndrome –Martín Laclaustra specifies–. During the follow-up in this study, a participant was deemed frail when they exhibited at least three of the following criteria: exhaustion, low physical activity, slowness when walking, unintentional weight loss, and muscle weakness”.

Decrease in processed foods

Previous studies had associated dietary intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and added sugars with greater prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Likewise, diet is known to impact the development of frailty, but the specific role of added sugars (most of them being simple sugars) in  the appearance of this syndrome was unknown.

According to the authors, the study sample –participants in the Seniors-ENRICA cohort– is representative of the Spanish adult population aged 60 years or older.

Dietary surveys conducted between 2008 and 2010 have shed light on the intake of foods containing added sugars, including among others, sugared beverages, and have subsequently shown that between 2012-2013, those participants who consumed the most [of these beverages] were more likely to become frail.

The results showed that those participants who consumed more than 36 grams per day of added sugars developed frailty more often –by a factor of more than two (2.27)– than those who consumed fewer than 15 grams per day.

The components of frailty that are more closely related to the intake of added sugars were low physical activity and unintentional weight loss. Oddly, this association was seen when studying the sugars that were added through food handling or processing, but was not observed when examining the simple sugars that are naturally present in foods.

The findings are important in the area of public health, since many seniors could benefit from an improvement in their diet based on a simple measure, as presented in this study: by decreasing the intake of processed foods.


Bibliographic Reference:

Laclaustra M, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Guallar-Castillon P, et al. Prospective association between added sugars and frailty in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2018; 107:772-9.



Martin Laclaustra Gimeno

Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health and Microbiology.

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

E-mail: martin.laclaustra@uam.es