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Sugar: obesity smoking gun or just part of the problem

SUGAR COATED: Will a tax on sugar have any effect on the obesity epidemic or is the sugar one of many causes. It seems to depend on which expert you talk to.
SUGAR COATED: Will a tax on sugar have any effect on the obesity epidemic or is the sugar one of many causes. It seems to depend on which expert you talk to. Contributed

UPDATE: A DIETITIAN at Grafton's GP Super Clinic, James Morris, is not convinced by some of the claims by authors like David Gillespie in his book White Poison about the effect of sugar in the diet.

In the book Mr Gillespie, who is not a dietitian or health professional, told how he lost more than 40kg by cutting sugar from his diet.

Mr Morris says the research shows fat in the diet is still the major cause of obesity and related health issues, but agrees there are unhealthy amounts of sugar in foods like soft drinks.


1. Is sugar consumption behind the rise of obesity and diabetes? No. At this stage the data and evidence don't show that.

The evidence shows that some foods, including sugar, are involved, but with diseases, like Type 2 diabetes it's continuing lifestyle choices, like eating junk food and not being active enought that are the issues.

It's having high levels of fats and saturated fats in the diet that's the major cause of obesity.

These products are in processed foods which are a major part of the diet for many people.

Sugar is not the sole problem.


2. Is sugar addictive, as some health experts claim? Food and consuming sugar is part of nutritional behaviours.

Hunger hormones in the body affect the approach of people to food.

It's not the foods which act like a drug, so I don't think it's correct to say that sugar is like a drug.


3. Will taxing sugar be effective in reducing its consumption? I've got no opinion about that outside the concern about minimising the amount of processed food in people's diets.

Eating too much processed food is a nutritionally poor choice, but what's the best way of encouraging people to eat less of it, I'm not sure.

There would have to be a lot more studies done about it, but looking at the response of people in overseas countries, where taxes have been imposed on foods like soft drink, could be a good tool to decide the best way forward.


4. Will taxes have any effect on growers and millers, which is a major industry in the Clarence Valley? This is a question that's not really in my scope to answer.

 

The sugar industry's view

DEPENDING on which scientist you speak to, sugar in the diet is either the smoking gun or just one of many reason behind the explosion of obesity in the community in the past 30 years.

The nutrition communications manager for the Australian Sugar Industry Alliance, Mary Harrington, said the science just doesn't agree with claims coming from some health experts.


1. Is sugar consumption behind the rise of obesity and diabetes?

The scientific evidence isn't there to support this idea. It's easy to point the finger at sugar as the sole cause, but the science just doesn't agree.

Obesity and diabetes are complicated and to say that one item in the diet is to blame is just not correct.

In fact, overweight and obesity has tripled since the 1980s and sugar consumption has actually dropped by 23% in that time.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines tell us that too many kilojoules from any source can cause weight gain if not worked off during exercise.


2. Is sugar addictive, as some health experts claim?

Sugar is not addictive. Food addiction in general is not supported by the science. Just because we enjoy eating sugar does not mean we are 'addicted' to it.

We are naturally drawn to sweet tasting foods for energy for survival. We enjoy the pleasant taste and reward. But the reward is different to that from drugs of abuse or alcohol, which is not essential for life.

In general, people who say they are 'addicted' usually overeat a range of enjoyable foods, including those that are fatty and sugary.

What we really mean is that we crave sugary foods and drinks and other items that are difficult to resist.


3. Will taxing sugar be effective in reducing its consumption?

There have been recent media reports which claim consumption of sugary drinks in Mexico fell by around 12% following the imposition of a tax on them.

In fact it was purchase of sugary drinks that was reported to have fallen 12% in the recent Mexico study. This isn't the same as actual intake. We don't know if people drank less.

It looks like the amount of soda tax collected by the Mexican government is increasing over time. If the aim is to discourage consumption, then why is this happening?

Research is limited on how effective a sugar tax would be on reducing a person's total energy intake and the overall effect on obesity.

However in the context of the total diet, soft drinks represent a relatively small proportion of energy intake in Australia. You might not then expect a dramatic change in energy intake due to a soft drink tax.


4. Will taxes have any effect on growers and millers, which is a major industry in the Clarence Valley?

I'm not aware of any direct research on this issue.

However we do know that sugar consumption has been falling over the years, so this is nothing new. While overweight and obesity has tripled since the 1980s, sugar consumption has actually dropped by 23% in that time.

Topics:  eating food health sugar



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