A team of scientists at the University of California in San Francisco believes so, and they’re doing something about it. They launched an initiative to bring information on food and drink and added sugar to the public by reviewing more than 8,000 scientific papers that show a strong link between the consumption of added sugar and chronic diseases.
The common belief until now was that sugar just makes us fat, but it’s become clear through research that it’s making us sick. For example, there’s the rise in fatty-liver disease, the emergence of Type 2 diabetes as an epidemic in children and the dramatic increase in metabolic disorders.
Laura Schmidt, a UCSF professor at the School of Medicine and the lead investigator on the project, SugarScience, said the idea is to make the findings comprehensible and clear to everyone. The results will be available to all on a website (SugarScience.org) and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Added sugars, Schmidt said, are sugars that don’t occur naturally in foods. They are found in 74 percent of all packaged foods, have 61 names and often are difficult to decipher on food labels. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires food companies to list ingredients on packaging, the suggested daily values of natural and added sugars can’t be found.
The FDA is considering a proposal to require food manufacturers to list information on sugars in the same way they do for fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein. But because so much added sugar is dumped into so many products, one average American breakfast of cereal would likely exceed a reasonable daily limit.
“SugarScience shows that a calorie is not a calorie but rather that the source of a calorie determines how it’s metabolized,” said pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, a member of the SugarScience team and the author of “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.” Lustig said that more than half of the U.S. population is sick with metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and liver disease that are directly related to the excessive consumption of added sugars in the Western diet.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the category of heart attack/stroke as the leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease. That’s about 800,000 a year, or one in three deaths.
The latest statistics from the American Diabetes Association show that 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent, have diabetes. Of that number, 21 million have been diagnosed and 8.1 million have not, and the numbers continue to grow, according to the association.