From Ryan Jaslow:
Should the government regulate sugar, just like it regulates alcohol and tobacco?
A new commentary published online in the Feb. 1 issue of Nature says sugar is just as “toxic” for people as the other two, so the government should step in to curb its consumption.
Sugar meets the same criteria for regulation as alcohol, the authors wrote, because it’s unavoidable, there’s potential for abuse, it’s toxic, and it negatively impacts society. They write that sugar is added to so many processed foods that it’s everywhere, and people eat up to 500 calories per day in added sugar alone. Sugar acts on the same areas of the brain as alcohol and tobacco to encourage subsequent intake, they wrote, and it’s toxic because research shows that sugar increases disease risk from factors other than added calories, such as when it disrupts metabolism.
Any regular reader on the blog knows of my interest in obesity, and my concern that we are failing to address the problem adequately. But this seems to go a bit too far. There are legitimate reasons that we don’t allow children to purchase and/or consume alcohol. Sugar (as glucose), on the other hand, is necessary for life. It’s in lots of food, not just processed foods. And just because something “can” be abused doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to have it.
There are data that show immediate and serious consequences of drinking. As far as I know, no such data exist for sugar, teased apart from other unhealthy nutrients. We can have a serious and evidence based discussion of how food and tax policy subtly shapes our eating habits without resorting to age limits on a substance that the brain needs in order to survive. That’s not productive, and might even drive people away. The obesity epidemic can likely only be overcome with sustained societal behavior change. We need to work, with people, not against them.