A new scientific study has concluded that sugar is as much of a threat to human health as tobacco and alcohol. Tony the Tiger may look benign, but he may be a merchant of death. The people who make Sugar Frosted Flakes were on to something when they dropped “sugar” from the name of their product.

The scientists who conducted the study at UCSF are blaming sugar for killing 35 million people a year worldwide due to cancer, diabetes and heart disease, in addition to causing “a global obesity pandemic.” Of course, it’s not sugar per se that is solely responsible. It’s the profits before people mentality of the big food and agricultural conglomerates that are pouring sugar down the throats of a trusting public in order to puff up their bottom lines. While they profit, 75 percent of health care spending in the U.S. is related to care and cure of people suffering from these sugar related illnesses.

All of these cases cannot be blamed on sugar, but the UCSF scientists think it is “a primary culprit of this worldwide health crisis.” Their report points out that too much sugar does more than make you fat: it brings about metabolic changes that raises blood pressure and causes hormonal changes and liver damage. These are the same kinds of health damages that come about from alcohol (distilled sugar) abuse. They propose that government “regulate” [sort of] the sugar industry. It seems as if the last barrier to the exploitation of the public from private enterprise is the government – in a real democracy it would be the first.

Robert Lustig, MD, one of the scientists involved in the study said, “As long as the public thinks that sugar is just ’empty calories’ we have no chance of solving this”- i.e., the health problems caused by sugar. “There are good calories and bad calories,” he continued, “just as there are good fats and bad fats, good amino acids and bad amino acids, good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates. But sugar is toxic beyond its calories.”

Claire Brindis, DPH, also involved in the study, said that to limit sugar intake we can’t just rely on giving out public information and hope that people will change their behavior. She thinks the same kind of broadly based public programs that were developed to fight alcohol abuse and tobacco use have to be enlisted.

Another scientist, Laura Schmidt, PhD, stated an obvious, if disheartening, truth, that “There is an enormous gap between what we know from science and what we practice in reality. In order to move the health needle, this issue needs to be recognized as a fundamental concern at the global level.”

So, what is to be done? Should the government set limits to the amount of sugar that can be added to food? Should sugary snacks be banned in schools? Capitalists won’t like this. And they certainly will howl at some of the suggestions put forth – such as “levying special sales taxes [“No new taxes”], controlling access [“Keep the government out of my mouth”], tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars in schools and workplaces [“We need less not more regulations”].”

The conservatives and the right, especially Republicans, won’t go for any of these measures. It is just not possible to do any progressive advance, in health or science, as long as these groups command political power in the U.S.; defeating them decisively is the sine qua non for real democratic advance. They won’t be mollified by Dr. Schmidt’s timid stance: “We’re not talking prohibition. 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.”

A pandemic killing 35 million people each year and the suggestion is “to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient.” And why don’t we fight malaria by making it slightly less convenient for the mosquitos to suck human blood? Maybe they will choose to bite something else.


Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins is associate editor of Political Affairs. Reach him at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.