Sector Report

US beverages: The case against sugar

by May 1, 2016

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We recently hosted a conference call with Dr. Robert Lustig, an expert on endocrinology and obesity and professor at UC San Francisco. The focus of his message is that processed food and added sugar are far more of a health risk than obesity per se. While Dr. Lustig acknowledged that people who are obese are more likely to have metabolic dysfunction (incl. diabetes) than those who are normal weight, he believes this “exclusive” view of obesity is mistaken. Not all people with metabolic disease are obese. Though 80% of obese people are sick in the US, compared to 40% of normal weight people, the normal weight population (168mn) is so much bigger than the obese population (72mn) that most people who are sick are of normal weight.

Processed foods and added sugar causing disease – In Lustig’s telling, the advent of processed food dates back to 1965, when food companies began adding more sugar to their products, and that period coincided with the dramatic rise in health care costs (due in large part to metabolic disease). Sugar-sweetened beverages are another culprit in his view, as they add sugar to people’s diets without any fiber (as in fruit) that would fill people up.

Proposed solutions
To the objection that soda taxes are regressive, affecting the poor the most, Dr Lustig responds that diabetes is a regressive disease, with the poor hardest hit. He proposes subsidizing bottled water with taxes from sugared drinks.