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Sugar Should Be Regulated, Study Suggests

Feb 3rd, 2012

SugarSugar is hazardous to health and the government should regulate the product the same way it does alcohol and tobacco. This is according to scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Their arguments for branding sugar as “toxic” can be read in an article published in Nature this week.

“Calories, carbohydrates, amino acids, and even fats have good and bad sides,” according to author Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the UCSF. “But sugar is toxic beyond its calories.”

According to Lustig, also a director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH), and co-authors Claire Brandis and Laura Schmidt, “sugar is the primary reason global obesity is one the rise worldwide, and it also contributes to about 35 million deaths annually around the world because of its contribution to lifestyle diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.”

The U.S. spends about 75% of healthcare costs treating these diseases and the consequences they bring.

“Sugar is much more than empty calories which indirectly affects health by making people fat,” according to the three authors. Sugar consumption has tripled over the last 50 years, and is believed to be a main factor in the increasing global obesity epidemic.

The authors argue that obesity is only a marker of the toxic effect of sugar over-consumption. “On its own, sugar has several effects, especially at greater quantities. It can raise blood pressure, change metabolism, alter signalling hormones and damage the liver.”

Sugar damages the liver the same way alcohol does, according to the authors, saying that alcohol is made from sugar.

This may also explain why some people with pre-diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are not obese, according to the authors.

“We cannot solve the problem with sugar as long as the public considers it as just empty calories,” according to Lustig.

“Changing people’s patterns regarding sugar consumption is not a straightforward problem, it is very complicated,” says Brandis, a director of UCSF’s Institute for Health Policy Studies (IHPS). “You cannot expect individuals to change, you need to have changes in the community and the environment, similar to what happened with alcohol and tobacco. This increases your chances of success.”

The authors argue that “people should be aware of what the scientists are discovering about sugar so they can change and start eating less of it.”

“A great gap exists between what we know scientifically and what we practice in reality,” according to Schmidt, co-chair of UCSF’s Community Engagement and Health Policy Program. “This issue should be treated as a fundamental concern at the global level in order to create a paradigm shift.”

The authors suggest that the changes implemented by many governments around the world to reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption can be used as a model for curbing sugar consumption. Some measures may include controlling access, special taxes, and stricter licenses on vending machines and snack bars that sell high sugar products.

The authors also want a change in balance. “Foods with less sugar should be as easy to obtain and as affordable as those with high sugar content,” according to them. “We are not advocating prohibition, we just want subtle ways to make sugar consumption a little less convenient, so people may move away from concentrated doses.”

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