35 million people die each year due to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The major risk factors causing these diseases are tobacco use, alcohol use, and poor diet. Two of these factors are regulated by the government: tobacco and alcohol. Professionals are now arguing that sugar is the other main culprit of these diseases and should also be put through the same regulations as alcohol and tobacco.
In the past 50 years the worldwide sugar consumption has tripled. This has contributed to an obesity epidemic. As a result, there are now 30 percent more obese people in the world than malnourished people.
Just in America alone, people are consuming nearly 500 calories a day in added sugar. That’s not naturally occuring sugars like the ones found in fruit, but food and drink with sugar specifically added in. Soda is a major source of this added sugar as the average American is is consuming 57 gallons of soda a year, over half on which is not diet or sugar free soda.
The researchers are stating that these levels of sugar consumption are toxic and hard on the liver just like alcohol. Also, sugar can disrupt metabolism which causes the risk of many other diseases.
The co-author of this study and movement is sugar researcher Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment. Lustig says, “We are now seeing the toxic downside,” referring to all the elevated rates in disease. His study is clear to mention that obesity is just one marker of the ill effects of high sugar consumption, but it is not the only indicator that people are getting sick. “40 percent of normal-weight people are developing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, lipid problems, heart and liver disease.”
The printed study also states, “it’s time that the government steps in and regulates sugar in ways similar to tobacco and alcohol. That includes taxes, age restrictions and other policies to control the distribution of sugar.”
Lustig and his colleagues are finding some support for their proposal. Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, stated that she agrees in policy changes, since many Americans take in about 25 percent of their daily calorie intake through sugar.
“I don’t think people have any idea how many calories they take in when they take in soft drinks – particularly because they are consumed in such large quantities,” Nestle said. She thinks regulation could be possible, since many local governments are already enforcing policies to reduce sugar in schools or even tax sodas.
It’s no surprise that the Sugar Association and the American Beverage Association were not supportive of this policy. They believe the studies are skewed and there should be more focus on the dangerous uses of alcohol and tobacco along with addressing the issue of inactivity among the population.
Everyone in this battle makes some good points. It may be worthwhile to consider though, that just 50 years ago, this was nearly the same kind of debate that took place over the health and regulation of tobacco. Well, we know how that one turned out.
February 18th, 2012