Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Sugar and obesity

sugar-and-obesityFor years, dietary experts blamed fat as the root of obesity.  Millions of people diligently reduced their fat intake, but they were still fat.  Researchers then began to realise that many people who were taking fat out of their diets were replacing it with sugar — for example, cookies that were free of fats but loaded in sugar and calories.
 
“The problem is that with sugar, you’re getting a very large number of calories with a comparatively small volume of food. And we know that calories do count.

“A tablespoon of sugar, for example, contains between 50 and 60 calories but very little else from the standpoint of nutritional content,” says Dr Robert Keith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System nutritionist in the US.

Many studies have now linked sugar to overweight and obesity, including childhood obesity. 
  •  A recent study published in Pediatrics and led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in the US, concludes that childhood obesity epidemic is fueled by consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, now increasingly a large part of children’s and teens’ diets.  (Source: Medical News Today, 3 June 2008)
  •  In Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World, Greg Crister writes: “In 2001 researchers from the Department of Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston tracked 548 ethnically diverse Massachusetts schoolchildren (average age 11) for 19 months, looking at the association between their weight at the beginning of the period, intake of carbonated drinks, and weight at the end of the period.
  •  The results were revealing: 57% increased their intake of carbonated drinks over the 19-month period. The calories of just 1 extra soft drink a day gave the child a 60% greater chance of becoming obese. (Source: The Ecologist, November 2003)
  •  In 1999, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a revealing graph, which indicated the growth rates of new food products (mainly fructose-laden convenience foods, snacks and sweets) and of the US average Body Mass Index over the previous 35 years.  The 2 growth rates were practically identical. (Source: The Ecologist, November 2003)
In spite of such findings, the sugar industry continues vehemently to deny any link between sugar and obesity, hounding those who dare to suggest otherwise.  “Many of the experts we spoke to refused to be quoted, fearing further pressure from the industry,” says The Ecologist (November 2003).

“British Sugar’s website even goes as far as to claim: ‘Of the various foods and drinks available in the shops, sugar has been shown to be less likely to encourage overeating than some others, especially fat-containing foods.  Surveys have shown that people who eat more than the average amount of sugar tend to be slimmer than those who eat less.’”

How Sugar Causes Obesity

The body works to maintain a certain level of blood sugar (glucose) in the blood at all times.  Sugary foods and drinks increase the amount of sugar in the blood.  The more processed the food, and the more refined and simply constructed the sugar, the quicker it is absorbed into the blood.

As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which works to remove the sugar from the blood into the body’s cells.  Once sugar leaves the blood it will either be used straight away to provide energy, be converted to glycogen for later use as a source of energy, or stored as fat.  

Simply put, as the amount of sugar in the blood increases, there is less need to use it to provide energy and more of the sugar is converted into fat.

How many affected:

Around 400 million people worldwide are obese today.  This includes 20 million children under age 5 (WHO, 2007). In Malaysia, 48% of men and 62% of women are fat (2006).

Find out more about sugar and diseases in the CAP Guide How Sugar Destroys Your Health

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