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  Life   Health  08 Jan 2018  Sugar could be responsible for obesity and diabetes epidemics

Sugar could be responsible for obesity and diabetes epidemics

Published : Jan 8, 2018, 2:57 pm IST
Updated : Jan 8, 2018, 2:57 pm IST

Gary Taube, journalist and author, investigates this global issue.

Representational Image. (Photo: Pixabay)
 Representational Image. (Photo: Pixabay)

Washington: Gary Taubes, journalist and author, argues that sugar could be a fundamental cause of the global obesity and diabetes epidemics, with detrimental effects on the human body.

Bringing the matter to the forefront, Taubes emphasises that "we must do more to discourage consumption while we improve our understanding of sugar's role" which according to him goes beyond just empty calories. Taubes further writes that it has long been suspected by the doctors that sugar is a fundamental cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes. But until recently, the ideas of fat consumption and total energy balance have taken over the debate regarding obesity and nature of a healthy diet.

In 2016, the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes were described as 'slow-motion disasters' by Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO). She also suggested that the probability of preventing this 'bad situation' from getting 'much worse' was 'virtually zero'.

Official estimates state that one in every 11 people is affected by diabetes in the United States and one in every 16 people in the UK. The estimates also suggest that diabolical twins - obesity and diabetes - may cost US healthcare system as much as $1bn (£740m; €850m) a day. Taubes raises the question that "Why, despite all our best efforts, have these epidemics gone unchecked?" He adds that a simple reason is that our understanding of the root cause is fundamentally flawed.

Over the past decade, a renewed interest in the possibility that calorific sweeteners have major roles in causing obesity and diabetes have taken home in people's minds and therefore, major public health organizations are now recommending limited or no consumption of these 'free sugars'.

However, Taubes argues that the recommended usage only targets its calories rather than its potential for causing diseases. He asks "What if the problem is the sugar itself?". He states that sugar metabolises in a different manner than other carb-rich foods. The evidence that sugar has harmful qualities independent of its calories is still ambiguous. He states "If it is true, though, it changes how we must communicate the dangers of sugar consumption".

He warns that while restricting the amount of sugar consumption in a healthy diet is a good start "but we don't know if the level recommended is safe for everyone. It could be that for people who have obesity or diabetes, or both, even a little is too much. And the ubiquity of sugar-rich products may make it difficult for many people to maintain a healthy level of sugar consumption".

He concludes that given the scale of the obesity and diabetes epidemics, "then a concerted programme of research to establish reliable knowledge on this subject should be among our highest priorities. Meanwhile, we can acknowledge the uncertainties while still recommending strongly against consumption".

The research was published in The BMJ.

Tags: obesity, diabetes, health, sugar, type 2 diabetes, fat, diet