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The human face of sugar addiction

  • His big toe has been amputated due to gangrene and he has eye and major skin problems.

  • She is obese and barely mobile, with cataracts in both eyes. She has a stent, skin problems and spends four hours on a dialysis machine three days a week, just to stay alive.

  • At two years old, this child will scream and cry before having six rotten teeth extracted, showing raw nerves exposed in the jaw. The dental surgeon will learn how her parents had fed her soft drink like it was water.

According to statistics these people are just numbers

But when we look past the numbers we see the very human cost of sugar addiction.

In Nigel Latta’s documentary, ‘Is Sugar the New Fat?’[1] these are just a tiny sample of the many millions of people that are living with (or in the aftermath of) sugar abuse.

How has it come to this?

In 1972 when British physiologist and nutritionist John Yudkin published his claim in his famous book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’, that sugar is a major cause of obesity and heart disease, he was ignored by the majority of the medical profession and rubbished by the food industry.

Yudkin’s exposé on sugar has been developed recently by American childhood obesity expert and endocrinologist, Dr Robert H. Lustig, who has spent the past sixteen years treating childhood obesity and studying the effects of sugar on the central nervous system and metabolism. Dr Lustig says the sweeter they make the drinks, the more people buy[2].

Yet even with Yudkin’s and Lustig’s clear and early warnings, in 2014:

  • One in four adults in the UK was overweight[3]
  • There is an epidemic of obese six month old babies and obese newborns around the globe [3]
  • 25% of Australian children and 63% of the adult population was overweight [3]
  • Australia's obesity levels are now on par with the United States, but slightly less than New Zealand and have nearly doubled in 30 years[4]
  • Obesity rates in Australia are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world, with five million obese people[4]
  • Since 1980, worldwide obesity rates have doubled. In 2014, studies estimate there were 2.1 billion overweight and obese people on this earth[5] – a staggering one third of the world’s population, which is predicted to increase. We are choking on ourselves, literally!
  • To put this in perspective, there are an estimated 805 million people suffering chronically from hunger. Whereas the first International Conference on Nutrition pledged to ensure freedom from hunger, at the second conference twenty-two years later, the pledge changed to eradicate hunger, reverse the rising trends in overweight and obesity and reduce the burdens of diet-related non-communicable diseases[5]
  • Sugar consumption has tripled since World War ll
  • Eighty percent of the 600,000 manufactured food products in the US have added sugar, and sugar now has 56 names[6]

What has led to the massive increase in sugar consumption?

In 1971, during President Nixon’s era, American farmers were told to "get big or get out of farming". Scientists had invented a process of making corn syrup, so the American farmers who had surplus land were instructed to grow corn – lots of it! The idea was to get cheap food into supermarkets by substituting sugar with this new sweetener. The farmers became rich from all their corn production and the industrial sweetener was now up and running. It was aptly called "Gold".

This sweetener is now used in processed foods everywhere – pizzas, toppings, bread and soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi that replaced sugar with the less expensive corn syrup.

Between 1982 and 1984, due to Coca-Cola’s marketing strategies, four billion cases of soft drink were sold.

Statistics in April 2015[7], show Coca-Cola owns 3,500 different products and is responsible for over 50% of all soft drinks sold globally.

There are 1.8 billion bottles of Coca-Cola sold daily and nearly 10.5 Coca-Cola branded drinks consumed every second

Whilst during the 1970’s obesity was not a problem, this soon began to change, so in 1985 the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA began to map obesity rates in the population.

In 1994 studies done by Dr Jean-Marc Schwarz[8], a biochemist, researcher and professor at Touro University, San Francisco, showed how sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup converts to fat in the body and where it is then stored. Scientists say that fructose suppresses leptin, our internal stop button, so we don’t stop eating when we should.

Scientists claim the problem with fructose is twofold:

First, there is no hormone to remove fructose from our bloodstream (unlike glucose, which stimulates insulin production). It is therefore left to the liver to remove it. When the liver is overwhelmed it converts fructose to liver fat, which increases our chances of developing insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), hardened arteries and heart disease.

Secondly, fructose suppresses the hormone leptin, which tells you when you’re full. In other words, your brain lets you consume it without limit. A decade long worldwide study covering 175 countries found that for every 150 calories of sugar consumed each day – about the amount in a 355ml (12 ounce) can of soft drink – the proportion of people with diabetes rose by one per cent[9].

The sugar industry rejects the claims that sugar causes obesity. Studies done in the 1970’s showed sugar was an issue, but careful lobbying by the food and sugar industry buried this scientific evidence. In a pivotal moment in history, the food industry made fat the scapegoat and, as a result, low-fat foods were born. BUT, the problem was flavour, as taking fat out of food made it less tasty. The solution? Add sugar. Any possible benefits of removing fat were now cancelled out by having more sugar in foods.

By 2000, the tide was turning. People were talking and food lobbyists became nervous and began defending sugar. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had released a report in 2003 showing that excess sugar threatens the nutritional quality of diets and it recommended sugar be limited to 10 percent of daily calorie intake.

This raised the ire of The Sugar Association Inc.[10] which then wrote to the Director General of WHO, suggesting it would persuade the US Congress to deny $406 million in federal funding to WHO if the report on sugar was not pulled[11].

It also, on behalf of itself and several major American food and business organisations, wrote to the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (a federal government department, whose goals are to protect the health of all Americans and to provide essential human services), asking for intervention in this matter. The threat and lobbying appear to have worked. When WHO issued its global health strategy on diet and health the following year (2004) there was no mention of the sugar study in its report.

This intervention by the sugar industry is having dire effects on us today. In 2009, Dr David Kessler, the US Federal Drug and Administration (FDA) commissioner between 1990-1997, predicted that the obesity crisis fuelled by sugar, will end up as ‘one of the most profound public health epidemics.’[12]

Professor Nick Finer, from University College London's Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said in December 2015 that obesity was now "the most pressing health issue for the nation. Estimates of the economic costs of obesity suggest they will bankrupt the NHS.” (National Health Service)[13]

"We were responsible for the dental health of pre-school and primary school children. Every public school had a clinic, where all children, including those from private schools, attended.

Educating children and mothers on the correlation between sugar and dental decay, with emphasis on healthy diet choices seemed understood, so dental decay was not rampant. Despite this, there were some pre-school children whose teeth were abscessing and beyond repair and required extraction. I removed deciduous molars on several children whose teeth had broken down to the gum line. The problem with this is that the permanent teeth replacing them do not erupt until a child is about eleven or twelve years old, so it affects the natural development of the jaw. Some children had the whole outside surface of each tooth decaying from sucking a dummy covered in honey.

Mothers were often not aware that a popular drink called Ribena, advertised as containing Vitamin C, was laced with sugar. Drinking and sucking on this from a bottle caused extensive dental decay. Children undergoing mass extractions were sent to the Dental Hospital to be treated under anaesthetic. This was very distressing for the children and their parents and difficult for them to cope with. Whilst keeping the children as calm as possible under these circumstances, I also knew that all this unnecessary trauma could have been avoided.”

Things have escalated since 1989. The huge increase of sugar and high fructose corn syrup in so many drinks and foods is harming us and our children with unwanted medical problems, including rising obesity and dental decay.

With this in mind, there are questions we can ask ourselves:

  • What is really going on and why are we individually and collectively making choices which are damaging our health?
  • Why do we keep going back for more and more sweet and fat-laden food and drink?
  • Do we consume food and drink to numb and distract us from the realities of life or how we feel about ourselves?
  • If we could change how we feel inside, would this change what we eat and drink?

We can talk about all this and more, but knowing facts and figures, even though these are mind-boggling, does not fully answer these questions and why we are in this global state of human suffering, with ongoing health problems and the real cost to us all. Each one of us is important in the grand scale of things.

While the food and drink industry is responsible for marketing and selling these products and putting profit before people, ultimately it is we who make the decision what to eat and drink.

We need to clearly understand what we are really eating and drinking and not rely on the marketing ‘facts’ of food producers who are interested in healthy profits, not healthy people.

Sugar is a health epidemic we don’t yet fully appreciate in scope or consequence. We have known for a long time that sugar rots our teeth, but as the facts are now showing and becoming more widely known, it rots our entire body and diminishes our quality of life in the process. Beginning to return to life free of sugar starts with seeing what the cost of sugar really is and what a toxic ‘treat’ it is.

There is a way of living sugar-free and it is worth discovering more about what life after sugar is like.

References:

  • [1]

    Latta, Nigel. 2 September 2014. Film documentary. Is Sugar the New Fat? Retrieved from https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/nigel-latta/nigel-latta-is-sugar-the-new-fat-/02-09-2014

  • [2]

    Lustig, Robert. May 23, 2013. Film documentary. Fat Chance. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3WkXJokBAU

  • [3]

    Mercola, Dr J. January 26, 2010. HFCS: This Common Food Ingredient Can Really Mess Up Your Metabolism. Retrieved from
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/01/26/sugar-may-be-bad-but-this-sweetener-is-far-more-deadly-part-2.aspx

  • [4]

    ABC News. 29 May 2014. Australian obesity rates climbing faster than anywhere else in the world, study shows. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-29/australian-obesity-rates-climbing-fastest-in-the-world/5485724

  • [5]

    Science Daily. May 28, 2014. Obesity rates climbing worldwide, most comprehensive global study to date shows. Retrieved from
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140528204215.htm

  • [6]

    Food Addiction Institute. 18 August 2013. Brownell and Lustig Challenge APA on Food Addiction. Retrieved from http://foodaddictioninstitute.org/brownell-and-lustig-challenge-apa-on-food-addiction/

  • [7]

    Statistic Brain Research Institute. October 13, 2015. Coca-Cola Company Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/coca-cola-company-statistics/

  • [8]

    Ah San, H. Daily Republic. January 19, 2013. Sugar debate: Local researcher weighs in on fructose study. Retrieved from http://www.dailyrepublic.com/news/features-local/sugar-debate-local-researcher-weighs-in-on-fructose-study/

  • [9]

    The Guardian. February 27, 2013. Sugar is behind global explosion in type 2 diabetes, study finds. Retrieved from
    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/27/sugar-obesity-type-2-diabetes

  • [10]

    The Sugar Association, founded by members of the U.S. sugar industry, began in 1943 to promote the trade and consumption of sugar. It has international members.

  • [11]

    The Center for Science and Democracy. June 20, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org/center-for-science-and-democracy/fighting-misinformation/added-sugar-subtracted-science-appendix-d.html#.VnuEIZPRJBc

  • [12]

    Democracy Now. August 03, 2009. Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler: "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite". Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2009/8/3/former_fda_commissioner_david_kessler_the

  • [13]

    BBC News. 11 December 2015. Obesity 'biggest threat to women's health' in England. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35061167

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ObesityLifestyle diseasesFood industry

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