Restrictions on Sugar Consumption Recommended

MD Magazine® Staff

Consumption of sugar, which helps to drive the obesity crisis and causes millions of deaths worldwide each year, should be controlled like other threats to public health, a team of researchers from the University of California San Francisco argue in the Feb. 2 issue of Nature.

Consumption of sugar, which is helping to drive the obesity crisis and causing millions of deaths worldwide each year, should be controlled like other threats to public health, a team of researchers from the University of California San Francisco argue in the Feb. 2 issue of Nature.

The researchers, whose backgrounds are in endocrinology, sociology, and public health, argue that the quantities of sugar consumed by most Americans are sufficient to alter metabolism, raise blood pressure, muddy the signaling of hormones, and significantly damage the liver. In many respects, they point out, overconsumption of sugar has similar health effects to overconsumption of alcohol.

The researchers emphasize that sugar is damaging far beyond its calorie content. “As long as the public things that sugar is just ‘empty calories,’ we have no chance of solving this,” said article co-author Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at UCSF, in a press release. “Sugar is toxic beyond its calories.”

Worldwide consumption of sugar has tripled in the last five decades and helped fuel the obesity epidemic, but 40 percent of those with metabolic syndrome, which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, are not clinically obese. In addition, the United Nations has determined that these non-communicable diseases now exact a greater toll on health worldwide than infectious diseases.

The researchers recommend that sugar be controlled in a manner similar to that of tobacco and alcohol. Among the possible measures they outline are: targeted sales taxes; restrictions on the number of fast food restaurants and convenience schools in low-income neighborhoods and near schools; restrictions or bans on the sale of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages to those under a certain age; and limits or bans on commercials for products with added sugar.

“We’re not talking prohibition,” said article co-author Lisa Schmidt, PhD, professor of health policy at UCSF, in the press release. “We’re not advocating a major imposition of the government into people’s lives. We’re talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose. What we want is to actually increase people’s choices by making foods that aren’t loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get.”