Sugar is the new tobacco

I swear, it feels like my email is reading my mind these days. Yesterday I told you about a couple of messages I got regarding statins (one that went against everything I believe about these poisons — and a follow-up that just confirmed my long-held stance).

Well today, I opened my inbox and this gem was waiting for me: “Sugar Is the New Tobacco, so Let’s Treat It That Way.”

It’s like they snuck into my room while I was sleeping and snatched my thoughts. Or better yet, maybe they’re reading my newsletters!

Naturally, I opened the email immediately. It was from the UK parliamentary “Sugar Summit.” That’s right. The UK government hosted a summit to consider the dangers of sugar. Do you think the U.S. will have one before or after they decide how much of our tax money to fork over to the sugar industry in subsidies?

But before you go giving too much credit to government officials, you should know that the summit wasn’t the brainchild of politicians and bureaucrats. It came about because a concerned mother learned that, because of the obesity epidemic, today’s generation of parents may be the first to outlive their children.

To combat the problem, she launched a campaign called Sugarwise to help consumers identify foods with added sugar. She convened the Sugar Summit to help get the word out about her initiative.

And boy did she strike a nerve.

The event was chaired by Keith Vaz, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes. High-profile grocery retailers in the UK, such as Tesco and Caffè Nero attended, as did the Jamie Oliver Group. Other stakeholders who were in attendance included the UK Department of Health, Public Health England, the British Soft Drinks Association, and the Food and Drink Federation.

The UK is making great strides toward turning around the sugar-fueled obesity and diabetes epidemic, and this summit is just one example. Like Mexico, the UK is also imposing a soft drink tax to discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) — one of the most notorious sources of excess sugar.

The UK’s 20 percent tax on SSBs may seem hefty, but it’s in line with what experts recommend. The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages a tax of at least 20 percent in order to effectively curtail the global epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

And why not? These types of taxes work. Just look at tobacco. The reason smoking and tobacco use have been plummeting is that governments took legislative measures to address not only the public perception of smoking, but also the cost.

Tobacco taxes have led to declines in smoking rates. And those declines are seen as the single most important driver in the drop in cardiovascular disease deaths over the past three decades.

There’s every reason to believe that the soda tax will have a similar effect. According to researchers at Oxford University, cutting sugar consumption by 15 percent would have impressive health consequences. They estimate that within a year, 180,000 fewer people would become obese. Even more would avoid becoming classified as overweight.

That alone would be a magnificent feat with far-reaching effects. And all it takes is a cut in calories from sugar. Moderating calories from other sources simply doesn’t have the same effect. That fact was proven by an analysis of data from 175 countries. The analysis showed that for each additional 150 calories available for consumption from sugar, populations saw an 11-fold increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. The same was not true for additional calories from fat or protein. Sugar kills!

This article echoed one of my key messages — one that some people have criticized as being too radical, but that I know to be true: The ideal amount of sugar consumption is zero. Zilch. Nada.

Sugar serves absolutely no biological function. On the contrary, it is addictive, toxic, and detrimental to our health. Daily consumption of even small amounts of sugar, including added sugar and the sugar present in fruit juice, syrups, and honey, is harmful.

Unfortunately, the food industry has made it exceptionally difficult for consumers to avoid sugar altogether. Sugar is added to approximately 80% of all processed foods. And much of it is hidden. In the United States, a third of sugar consumption comes from sugary drinks, and only a sixth from foods that people normally perceive as junk, such as chocolates, cookies, and ice cream. Almost half of the sugar consumption in this country comes from foods you wouldn’t normally associate with added sugar, such as ketchup, salad dressings, and bread.

And with sugar being so heavily subsidized by our government, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

It’s only going to be through public actions like this one — a summit convened by a concerned mother — that our government will begin to treat sugar like the threat that it is.

The science is more than sufficient; the case against sugar is overwhelming. Sugar is the new tobacco, as this article pointed out. And it’s about time we start treating it that way.


Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, et al. The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PLoS One. 2013;8:e57873.