What does sugar have in common with cigarettes?

  • Posted on Nov 15, 2016

sugarAn article on Medscape titled “Sugar is the New Tobacco, so Let’s Treat it that Way” caught my eye. The commentary said that the United Kingdom is introducing a 20% tax on sugar sweetened beverages in 2017. The World Health Organization recommends the same tax on sugary drinks to curb the epidemic of both obesity and diabetes type 2. What is the association between sugar and cigarettes?  Heart disease from smoking did not go down until legislative measures targeted “affordability, availability and acceptability of smoking.” We need to do the same for sugar.  A 15% reduction in sugar consumption would mean 180,000 people do not become obese but the benefits go beyond that. For every 150 sugar calories available, there is an 11 fold increase in diabetes type 2. This is compared to 150 calories of protein or even fats. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is going up in the US in both obese and non- obese. Diabetes is not just a disease for the overweight population.  There is a 3 fold risk of cardiovascular mortality among adults who consume more than 25% of their calories from sugar. And that is easy to do.  Food labels are confusing and more then 80% of processed foods contain sugar. The World Health Organization recommends we consume no more than 3 teaspoons of sugar but the average US citizen consumes 4-7 x that amount! Almost half of that sugar comes from sources we don’t consider, like ketchup or salad dressing. Only a sixth of our sugar intake comes in sources we know to be bad for us, like cookies or ice cream.  It took 50 years before the links between smoking and lung cancer were published and effective regulation was introduced. The tobacco industry worked to deny, plant doubt, and buy the loyalty of scientists. The article pointed out the unfortunate similarities to the sugar industry…like the fact that they paid three Harvard scientists to downplay sugar’s role in heart disease. Last year, the New York Times exposed that Coca-Cola paid millions of dollars to also fund research that downplayed sugars role in obesity and promote that exercise was the main factor in weight gain.  The article ends…”the case against sugar is overwhelming. Sugar is the new tobacco, so let’s start treating it that way.” (Medscape article written by Aseem Malhotra MBChB, MRCP Oct 31, 2016)


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