The UK is getting serious about restricting sugar, why isn’t the US?

I was traveling abroad recently, giving a presentation in Dubai on how to reverse metabolic syndrome. And on my way home, two important news stories caught my attention during my layover at Heathrow Airport in London. They were all over the headlines of the British papers and the lead stories on all the news shows

Both had to do with sugar, and I thought — “Hallelujah! The evils of sugar are finally making front-page news!”

I was expecting to see the same news coverage when I arrived back in the states. But guess what?

Not a word.

So since you won’t hear this important news anywhere else, as usual, I’m bringing it to you on my own.

The first study revealed just how severely sugar increases the risk of breast cancer. I’ll tell you more about that one next week.

In the meantime, today I’m going to tell you about the second study — which is equally devastating.

Sadly, it appears that over the course of a year, the average 5-year-old in the UK consumes the equivalent of their body weight in sugar. That’s about 49 pounds — or 15 teaspoons a day — which is three times the recommended maximum.

Of course, this isn’t just a problem across the pond. In fact, in the US it’s even worse. Here, kids eat an average of 21 teaspoons of sugar per day by the time they’re 4 years old. This blows the American Heart Association’s “3-4 teaspoons per day” recommendation out of the water. (It’s beyond me why we’re recommending ANY intake of sugar, but at least it’s a start, I suppose.)

Any way you look at it, it’s too much. And it’s doing colossal damage to kids’ health. Starting with perhaps the most obvious effect…

It’s rotting their teeth. Big time.

Dental decay is the most common childhood disease in the world. And in the UK it’s the No. 1 reason kids under 9 are admitted to the hospital.

Sugar overload is the No. 1 cause of cavities here in the US, too.

But the devastating consequences extend beyond the dental chair. In the UK, one in five children is overweight or obese by age 5. And that number rises to one in three by age 11.

The statistics in the US are just as sobering. According to a study published a couple of years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine, 15 percent of kindergarteners are overweight. And just over 12 percent are clinically obese. At five years old.

Of course, being overweight comes with serious health risks (diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver — just to name a few). But it also affects kids’ overall well-being, setting them up for low self-esteem, being bullied, and skipping school. Having been an overweight child, I can attest to 2 out of 3 of those. (Personally, I hated being absent from school.)

Obviously, these effects occur no matter where you live. But there’s one big difference between the childhood obesity problem in the UK vs here in the US…

The British government is actually trying to do something about it.

First of all, the British government is urging parents to take control of their children’s habits. And they’ve launched a new smartphone app to help.

This app works by reading the barcode on over 75,000 products and then revealing the total amount of sugar in grams. It also shows the amount of sugar in a picture of sugar cubes. The hope is this app will provide an instant visual understanding of how much sugar really is in certain food and drinks. For example, when scanning a can of soda, 9 cubes of sugar will appear on the screen.

But they’re not stopping with an app. The British government is also considering taxing sugary foods and drinks.

And British Cabinet Ministers are currently working on plans to crack down on advertising of unhealthy foods during “family viewing” hours on TV. As well as clamping down on marketing of “two for one” deals on junk food. And restrictions on the use of “emotional advertising” to children. (And indeed, the mind games food and beverage manufacturers play on us — and our kids — are pretty dirty.)

Although I often accuse the British government of being a nanny state, I applaud their efforts in trying to curb the childhood obesity epidemic. And I think it’s high time we follow their example when it comes to writing legislation that imposes a sugar tax on food and drinks — and regulates advertising of those products.

Clamping down on advertising is exactly what we did for alcohol and tobacco and look how effective it was. Why can’t we do the same for sugar? (I’ll tell you why — because the U.S. government subsidizes it.)

The fact is, sugar is a controlled substance — plain and simple. And until we treat it like one, it will continue to take lives — just like alcohol and tobacco have.


“Incidence of Childhood Obesity in the United States.” N Engl J Med. 2014 Jan 30;370(5):403-11.

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