Does sugar make you fat?

Sugar is often singled out as THE substance to be banned in order to avoid weight gain. However, in terms of weight gain, there is not ONE but several factors that come into play: eating habits, but also sedentary lifestyle, stress …

If excess sugar contributes over time to weight gain, it would be due to excess calories rather than a “specific” effect of sugars. More precisely, for an equivalent caloric intake , the consumption of sugar (with the exception of sugary drinks) does not lead to greater weight gain than with another type of carbohydrate or other nutrients (lipids, proteins) .

Weight management: a multitude of factors at play

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 39% of adults worldwide are overweight and 13% are obese . In developed countries, this figure is higher with an average of 19.5% of obese people in these countries, 38% in the USA, 30% in New Zealand, 10% in Italy or Switzerland. For France, the obesity rate is around 15% among adults (17% exactly according to the latest ESTABAN survey) and 4% for children  .

Overweight and obesity are defined by BMI (weight divided by the square of height, in kg / m2). For adults, the WHO defines overweight and obesity as follows: when the BMI is equal to or greater than 25, we speak of overweight. when the BMI is equal to or greater than 30, it is called obesity. For children, other methods allow age to be taken into account.   

Yet the human body is a formidable machine, which adapts perfectly to its environment as long as its energy needs are respected.

So how do you explain these numbers?

Obesity results from an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure, particularly linked to recent changes in lifestyles . Weight gain mainly depends on:


Excess calories are a primary factor, including increased portion sizes, snacking, and excessive consumption of caloric foods, generally high in fat and sugars.


  • Sedentary lifestyle: the lack of physical activity, the increase in the time spent sitting… help to unbalance the balance between energy intake and expenditure.
  • Stress is a psychological factor that can be involved in weight gain.
  • Sleep is also crucial: studies have shown that children and adolescents “little sleepers” are at greater risk of being overweight than others.


  • Family predisposition should not be neglected in the development of overweight and obesity, even if the importance of the effects linked to genetics also depends a lot on environmental factors.
  • The composition of our intestinal flora (microbiota), specific to each one, can also act on the appearance of overweight and obesity.

    What lifestyle to adopt to limit weight gain?


    Eating a balanced diet is important, by best adapting your needs according to the activity of the day, while keeping in mind that a good food balance is built not on just one meal but on the scale of the week . In general, to avoid excess calories, it is recommended not to eat too much fat or too sweet.

    It is therefore not the sugar in itself, but its excessive consumption that can lead to weight gain.


    Sugary drinks (sodas, fruit juices, nectars, syrups, etc.) can contribute to weight gain. If the precise mechanism is still not demonstrated today, there could be an effect specific to the consumption of “liquid” calories.

    The French Health Security Agency and the High Council for Public Health recommend limiting the consumption of sugary drinks or drinks with a sweet taste (containing sweeteners) to one glass per day. Water remains the only drink to be consumed at will.


    It is recommended to practice at least 30 minutes of dynamic activity per day for adults (cycling, walking, taking stairs…) and at least one hour for children and adolescents .

    Sugars do not systematically turn into fat We often hear that sugars turn into fat, but this phenomenon remains very marginal. After digestion, glucose is either used to provide the necessary energy or stored as glycogen in muscles and liver for later use. To a lesser extent, it can be stored as fat mainly in the cells of adipose tissue. The transformation of glucose into fats is called lipogenesis: studies show that it only intervenes in the event of very high overconsumption of sugars or carbohydrates. Indeed, the body would be able to burn and store impressive amounts of carbohydrates in a single intake (up to 500 g or about 1 kg of bread!) Before storing them in the form of fat.

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