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Last September, the United Nations declared that, for the first time in human history, chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes pose a greater health burden worldwide than do infectious diseases, contributing to 35 million deaths annually.

This is not just a problem of the developed world. Every country that has adopted the Western diet — one dominated by low-cost, highly processed food — has witnessed rising rates of obesity and related diseases. There are now 30% more people who are obese than who are undernourished. Economic development means that the populations of low- and middle-income countries are living longer, and therefore are more susceptible to non-communicable diseases; 80% of deaths attributable to them occur in these countries.



● Sugar consumption is linked to a rise in non-communicable disease ● Sugar’s effects on the body can be similar to those of alcohol ● Regulation could include tax, limiting sales during school hours and placing age limits on purchase

The toxic truth about sugar

Lustig, R., Schmidt, L. & Brindis, C


Sample Size


Government-imposed regulations on the marketing of alcohol to young people have been quite effective, but there is no such approach to sugar-laden products. Even so, the city of San Francisco, California, recently banned the inclusion of toys with unhealthy meals such as some types of fast food. A limit — or, ideally, ban — on television commercials for products with added sugars could further protect children’s health. Reduced fructose consumption could also be fostered through changes in subsidization. Promotion of healthy foods in US low-income programmes, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as the food-stamps programme) is an obvious place to start. Unfortunately, the petition by New York City to remove soft drinks from the food-stamp programme was denied by the USDA. Ultimately, food producers and distributors must reduce the amount of sugar added to foods. But sugar is cheap, sugar tastes good and sugar sells, so companies have little incentive to change. Although one institution alone can’t turn this juggernaut around, the US Food and Drug Administration could “set the table” for change


Policy, Public health, Risk factors, sugar

Key Words

Lustig, R., Schmidt, L. & Brindis, C. The toxic truth about sugar. Nature 482, 27–29 (2012).


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