Should The Government Treat Sugar Like Cigarettes?

Should The Government Treat Sugar Like Cigarettes?

A “slow-motion disaster,” is how Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, describes the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

In many developed countries, the obesity epidemic is one of the biggest public health crises they face. Upwards of 70% of adults in some countries are overweight.

Public Health England (PHE) recognises that something needs to be done. As such, they’re targeting sugar consumption in children to help curb this epidemic. By 2020 they want to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by 20%. But is this enough?

Should The Government Treat Sugar Like Cigarettes?

One op-ed piece says no. The PHE hopes to induce food and beverage manufactures to voluntary reduce the amount of sugar in their products. Op-ed author, Gary Traube, is very doubtful this will make much if any difference in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

He believes sugar may need to be treated in the same way cigarettes are handled. Would that really be helpful? Is government intervention really necessary?

What Does PHE Want To Do To Reduce Obesity And Diabetes?

Health guidelines recommend children consume a maximum of 24-30g of sugar per day. However, the average child is consuming three times the recommended amount.

Type 2 diabetes was once considered a disease of middle age. It was almost exclusively seen in overweight, middle aged or older adults. Now we’re seeing it at epidemic proportions in children.

A sugary drink tax is being implemented in hopes it will encourage people to consume less sugar, and encourage manufactures to create healthier products.

In addition to the tax, food and beverage manufacturers are to reduce the amount of sugar in a serving by either adding less sugar, making portion sizes smaller, or by creating overall healthier products.

Unfortunately, it seems these steps are likely too little, too late.

Why Won’t The PHE Plan Work?

We haven’t reached 2020 yet, so it’s possible this could make a difference.

However, if we make an educated guess, it really seems as if this is too little action taken too late. They should still be commended for trying, something does need to be done, but this isn’t likely to curb the epidemic. Why?

Assuming a slight reduction in sugar will reduce the obesity and diabetes epidemic is to simplify the complexities of our longtime obsession with sugar. It isn’t merely the calories associated with sugar, but rather how the body responds to it.

Reducing sugar intake by 20% doesn’t eliminate the negative effects sugar can have. Certainly, less consumption can lower risks, but it isn’t a solution to our sugar problem.

Be sure to read Your Child’s Sugar Intake Is Causing Alcoholic Diseases to learn more about the effects of sugar. 

Even the effects of sugar aside, are manufacturers going to reduce their sugar content voluntarily? The food and beverage manufacturing is a massive for profit industry.

There’s hope the sugary beverage tax will help to encourage people to purchase less sugary beverages and in turn, manufacturers will provide healthier options. But as a massive industry, given the PHE plan is voluntary, it’s very possible the goal won’t be met.

Should We Treat Sugar Like Cigarettes?

The reduction in cigarette use and lung cancer shows that over time, targeted public health campaigns can make a difference.

In the US, following the surgeon general’s Report on Smoking And Health, we saw a swift decline in smoking rates in the mid-1960s. However, it wasn’t until 30 years later that we saw lung cancer rates no longer rising.

The public health campaigns aimed at reducing smoking to lower lung cancer targeted smoking cessation, not reducing an individual’s amount of smoking. They didn’t encourage dropping just 20% of daily cigarettes smoked.

Even when the number of smokers dropped, it still took decades to see results on a public health scale. Once smoking is stopped, it takes 20 years for the risk of lung cancer to return to baseline.

Reducing sugar consumption by 20% might lower risks slightly. However, it isn’t going to eliminate what sugar can do to our bodies. It isn’t going to undo the epigenetic changes which can be passed down to a baby in utero from generations of consuming far too much sugar.

Read Eating Habits During Pregnancy Can Affect Three Generations – Study to learn more about maternal diet and epigenetic changes

Op-ed author Gary Traube says, “This epidemic has deep roots and may require drastic action to curb. That PHE is acting is admirable. But maybe we should treat this like cigarettes: aim to curb the number of sugar consumers, rather than the amount of sugar they consume. It will still take time to see an effect, but the odds of success will rise.”

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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