Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Should We Regulate Sugar?

If sugar’s consumption is linked to the rise in noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension, and if its effects on the body mimic those of alcohol, should we regulate it to protect public health?

Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis, all researchers involved in health policy, argue that we should. In the Feb. 4 issue of Nature magazine, they write:

Authorities consider sugar as “empty calories” — but there is nothing empty about these calories. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that fructose can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills — slowly. If international authorities are truly concerned about public health, they must consider limiting fructose — and its main delivery vehicles, the added sugars HCFS (high fructose corn syrup) and sucrose — which pose dangers to individuals and to society as a whole.

Robert Lustig is the researcher at the center of last year’s New York Times Magazine article Is Sugar Toxic? He hasn’t moderated his stance. Among familiar ideas such as taxing added sugars or sodas, limiting sugary products available in schools and reducing the advertising of foods with added sugar, he and his co-authors add the suggestion that the Food and Drug Administration remove sugar from the “Generally Regarded as Safe” list. They propose putting an age limit on those allowed to purchase drinks with added sugar and creating laws to restrict the access of children to convenience stores after school.
Those ideas are paternalistic, and perhaps that’s the point. Many of us, as parents, have effectively already imposed similar limits on our own children, some stricter than others. Free-for-all access to soda, advertising  and convenience foods isn’t on most of our menus. Public policy could support our parenting, and offer similar limits for those children whose parents are less vigilant.

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