Societal Sugar Control Essential to Public Health

(From right to left) UCSF researcher Robert Lustig, MD; Claire Brindis, DPH; Lau
(Left to right) UCSF researchers Robert Lustig, MD; Claire Brindis, DPH; and CTSI's co-director of Community Engagement & Health Policy, Laura Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH.

Sugar should be controlled like alcohol and tobacco to protect public health, according to a team of UCSF researchers, who maintain in a new report that sugar is fueling a global obesity pandemic, contributing to 35 million deaths annually worldwide from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Sugar is far from just 'empty calories' that make people fat.
Robert Lustig, UCSF professor of pediatrics, and director of UCSF's Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program

Non-communicable diseases now pose a greater health burden worldwide than infectious diseases, according to the United Nations. In the United States, 75 percent of health care dollars are spent treating these diseases and their associated disabilities.  

In the Feb. 2 issue of Nature, Laura Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH, and co-director of CTSI's Community Engagement & Health Policy program, joins UCSF colleagues Robert Lustig, MD, and Claire Brindis, DPH, in arguing that sugar’s potential for abuse, coupled with its toxicity and pervasiveness in the Western diet, make it a primary culprit of this worldwide health crisis.

This partnership of scientists trained in endocrinology, sociology and public health took a new look at the accumulating scientific evidence on sugar. Such interdisciplinary liaisons underscore the power of academic health sciences institutions like UCSF.

Sugar, they argue, is far from just “empty calories” that make people fat. At the levels consumed by most Americans, sugar changes metabolism, raises blood pressure, critically alters the signaling of hormones and causes significant damage to the liver – the least understood of sugar’s damages. These health hazards largely mirror the effects of drinking too much alcohol, which they point out in their commentary is the distillation of sugar.

Read more and watch the video