Sugar, not fat, the greatest risk of obesity

By Efrosini Costa

Sugar, not fat, the greatest risk of obesity
When it comes to obesity, fat may not be our friend but sugar is definitely the enemy, say US filmmakers.

The producers of the widely successful and critically acclaimed documentaries, An Inconvenient Truth and Fast Food Nation have once again focused the spotlight on the food industry and our health.

Fed Up is the name of their latest documentary that explores the global burden of obesity and obesity-related diseases and which they hope will challenge decades of misconception and ‘industry-funded’ misinformation about diet and lifestyle.

Recent alarming findings of US government studies showed that more than a quarter of those aged between 2 and 19 are obese  and that American children today will lead shorter lives than their parents. These “sobering and tragic statistics” are what  led the film makers to explore the issue more closely.

What they found was that, when it comes to obesity, sugar, not fat, may be the greatest culprit.

The film’s science consultant, Robert Lustig believes this is idea is not that unorthodox, with many doctors turning their support and attention to this idea.

A neuroendocrinologist and author and president of the Institute of Responsible Nutrition, Lustig says fat is a manufactured health issue that keeps our attention from the real health concerns.

“The food industry wants you to focus on three falsehoods that keep it from facing issues of culpability. One, it’s about obesity. Two, a calorie is a calorie. Three, it’s about personal responsibility,” he told reporters.

But if obesity was really the issue, the metabolic illnesses that are related to obesity would not be appearing in similar rates in the  healthy-weight population, argues Lustig.

“If more than half the population has problems, it can’t be a behaviour issue. It must be an exposure problem. And that exposure is to sugar.”

Fed Up claims that fast-food companies and producers of processed foods add more sugar to their “low-fat” foods to make them enticing and palatable for consumers. Hence why the diet-related health issues are affecting all levels of society not just the low-income groups normally associated with such poor health trends.

Diabetes not obesity should be our greatest cause for concern, the documentary argues. In fact, according to them, early-onset diabetes was unheard of a few years ago. Yet one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

“Obesity costs very little and is not dangerous in and of itself. But diabetes costs a whole lot in terms of social evolution, decreased productivity, medical and pharmaceutical costs, and death.” Lustig believes.

However, while many US health campaigns have made obesity the focus in recent years, efforts to curb the sugar industry or sugar intake and consumption have largely failed. That’s because it’s not in the interests of big business to do so, say the filmmakers.

“It’s too profitable,” says Lustig, adding that: “The pharmaceutical industry talks of diabetes treatment, not prevention. “The food industry makes a disease and the pharmaceutical industry treats it. They make out like bandits while the rest of us are being taken to the cleaners.”

So what’s the solution?

Lustig believes like all things that aren’t goof for us, laws are needed to regulate our sugar intake. Alcohol especially needs to be cautioned as it metabolises sugar as well as producing many of the same chronic disease associated with exposure to sugar.

Education, government guidelines and campaigns as well as health warning on soft-drink cans and equal advertising time to market fresh fruit and vegetables are all proposals put forward by the filmmakers for reducing harmful sugar intake.

“If the food industry continues to obfuscate, we will never solve this and by 2026 we will not have healthcare because we will be broke. Food producers are going to have to be forced. There’s only one group that can force them, and that’s the government. There’s one group that can force the government, and that’s the people,” says Lustig.


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