Added sugar and sweeteners are “health risks as serious as alcohol and tobacco”
US experts have argued that sugars and sweeteners added to foods pose such a serious health risk that they should be controlled in the same way that alcohol and tobacco are, according to commentary in the journal Nature.
To date, many healthcare experts have seen obesity as the main cause of chronic diseases and future ill-health. However, this may not be the case since one in five obese people have a normal expectancy.
The experts argue that sugar may actually be the cause of the dramatic worldwide rise in diseases that together comprise metabolic syndrome, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. People with these diseases are not always overweight. As such, obesity may not be the cause of illness, rather an indicator of the underlying cause, metabolic syndrome.
This increase in metabolic syndrome and its associated complications have, in turn, led to a huge increase in healthcare costs. This is especially so in the USA, where 75% of all healthcare dollars are spent on treating such conditions.
These comments raise some important issues. Processed foods contain high levels of sugar that simply don’t need to be there, Dr Peter Mace, Deputy Medical Director, Bupa Health and Wellbeing
The experts propose that we should tackle sugar consumption in the same way that alcohol and tobacco have been tackled. A tax should be imposed on all processed foods that contain added sugar, for example fizzy drinks, sports drinks and sugared cereals. The number of unhealthy vending machines and fast food restaurants in and around schools and workplaces should be limited. Also, sales of fizzy drinks should be limited during school times or an age limit set to buy them (they suggest 17 years of age).
However, they argue that ultimately food producers and distributors must reduce the amount of sugar they put in foods. The experts say there is very little incentive for them to do this at the moment therefore, the pressure for change needs to come from governments.
Dr Peter Mace, Deputy Medical Director, Bupa Health and Wellbeing, said: “These comments raise some important issues. Processed foods contain high levels of sugar that simply don’t need to be there.
“However, conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease aren’t solely down to having too much sugar in your diet. Other dietary factors and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, such as lack of exercise and smoking, undoubtedly contribute.
“The key to a healthy diet is balance. Don’t focus all your energies on cutting out one food group, for example sugar. Instead, eat a wide and varied diet including: foods high in fibre, such as wholegrain bread, beans and pulses; low-fat dairy products, such as semi-skimmed milk, low-fat cheese and yoghurt; starchy foods, such as wholemeal rice, pasta and bread; and plenty of fruit and vegetables. As the researchers themselves say, ‘A little (sugar) is not a problem, but a lot kills – slowly’”.(BUPA)