Sugar Is Ruining Everything

I just listened to an amazing conversation from Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing. It was on the obesity epidemic in the US. Now, the obesity epidemic is really hard to imagine without having been there. It is a visible — very visible — presence in the streets. And in the health statistics. And sugar is at the root of the problem.

The show features Dr. Robert Lustig. His claim to fame is a widely publicised talk which is available online:

A side note: a thing Lustig (which, apropos nothing, is German for “frolicking”, “gay”, literally: lustful) mentions is how 80 % of supermarket food items has high fructose corn syrup in it. I can attest to that. Whenever I visit I find that after eating my usual fare for a few weeks, I wind up gaining pounds I wouldn’t have gained back home

I think the conversation with Baldwin is good, wide-ranging and interesting with a lot of good information and facts about sugar, obesity and public health being bantered about. You are a lot smarter about how deeply messed up and — I hate the word, but it seems not inappropriate here — unnatural the Western addiction to sugar is by the end of the talk. It’s well worth your time. The second part of the show, with Martin Horn, who was high up in the US correctional system, is also really interesting, particularly when he gets to talking about drug legalisation, a cause which is hugely important.

But anyway, I wanted to write this post to do three things.

I wanted to point you to the interview, which is here.

I wanted to tell you to cut down on the sugar, already. And do exercise. Those two things are among the most significant boosts to my personal wellbeing and me and Informed Medical Scientifically Grounded Opinion can hardly recommend it enough.

And I wanted to just say a big, huge WTF to a weird thing that happens at the end of the Lustig interview. He is asked for the top two recommendations he would make for public policy on what he calls the “obesity pandemic”, the leading public health problem. He has two: taking fructose off the “Generally Regarded As Safe” list by the FDA and limiting access for sugar to infants and children.

Now, those are two great recommendations which should be done immediately. But why not make in addition the two bell-ringingly obvious policy choices for restricting sugar in the diets of the US population:

1. Taxing sugar to within an inch of its life as what it is: a hazardous luxury good — like tobacco, alcohol and cocaine.  Why not make a can of coke cost $5? And let me be clear how not kidding I am about this. There is no earthly reason why there should be that much sugar in anything. (We can make an exception for fruit juices without additives and other foods with different benefits.)

2. Restricting by law the maximum amount of sugar per serving size in processed food products. And the maximum serving size. If people want the crazy amounts, they can bake it themselves.

I wonder why taxing something is considered such a crazy idea in the US that even a public policy expert like dr. Lustig, when given free license to have his every fantasy fulfilled, ends up not advocating it. It would immediately cut down the amount of sugar eaten in the US.

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3 comments
  1. msangerman said:

    Reblogged this on Blog and commented:
    Sugar Isn’t Sweet

  2. Hmm, let the government have even more control over something as simple and fundamental as food choices. What does that say about how much you value individual freedom of choice and will?

    I personally live a very active and healthy lifestyle, and DO enjoy soft drinks a few times a week. It would be utterly outraging and unfair if they were so highly taxed. The root of the problem is much deeper. It lies in permissive parenting, and humankind’s primal value of high-calorie foods for survival. Whatever the solution, it’ll be neither simple or quick, rather a huge,gradual shift in our attitudes towards our diets and towards our children.

    • Release said:

      Sorry for the late reply.

      So: At what point does free will end and control begin? We like to think that the dividing line is clear. Is a heroin addict acting under his own free will when he shoots up? Clearly not — that’s one of the effects of heroin. Is a smoker? Smoking is addictive. Is an unfaithful man? Well, yes, mostly, but also no. The territory of will, impulse and instinct is a muddled, cratered no-man’s-land.

      I make the case for taxing sugar because it has been shown consistently to be a food that people despite the fact that it is clearly not healthy for them, in the same way that cigarettes have been shown to be smoked by people who know it will kill them some day.

      Here is an absolutely spectacular, mindbending book on the subject, which I encourage you to read, it changed my mind about a lot of these issues:

      http://www.cambridge.org/br/academic/subjects/philosophy/political-philosophy/against-autonomy-justifying-coercive-paternalism?format=HB

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