Sunday, 19 July 2015

There is no evidence - none at all - to justify this lastest sugar 'target'


Except, of course, that reducing the amount of sugar might be consequential on reducing total calorific intake. More to the point this selection of one 'macronutrient' as the culprit for rising levels of obesity is pretty lousy science - as if it's not possible to eschew nasty 'added sugar' and get properly fat!

"There's no medical evidence that reducing sugar consumption below 10 per cent to five per cent carries any additional health benefit - absolutely no evidence at all.

"The current average consumption of sugar is around 12-13 per cent. Getting to 10 per cent is a reasonable target and I think we should put some real effort behind achieving that first, but to come up with a new target that is miles away from what is achievable is entirely foolish - no population in the world can do that.

"Even vegetarians from India consume eight per cent of their calories from sugar and they have less heart disease and less diabetes than anyone in the world."

So says Professor Mike Lean, chair of Human Nutrition at Glasgow University's School of Medicine who I'm guessing knows a thing or two about this stuff. Now Professor Lean does say that the government has been too soft on the food industry - he may have a point but surely most of the blame (assuming that's the game we're in) rests with us as consumers.

Nevertheless, blaming sugar for obesity simply doesn't stack up for the very simple reason that we're eating a lot less of it. Here's a line from a research proposal:

Furthermore, there has been a paradoxical decline in sugars consumption in the UK and elsewhere over the past 3 or so decades and yet rates of obesity have continued to increase.

Sadly the proposers still wants to discover whether "individuals with a high consumption of dietary sugars, and in particular free sugars are more susceptible to weight gain than low consumers" rather than accepting the distinct lack of any direct causal link between sugar and obesity. In the end the truth about obesity is pretty straightforward - firstly people are obese because they consume more calories that they use over a long period of time, and secondly that most of the people labelled 'overweight or obese' are not in any way at greater risk of being ill.

Much of the debate around obesity has been a extended effort to find a demon - something or someone to blame for us being fat other than our own overeating and underexercising. The food industry, advertising, takeaways, fizzy drinks, saturated fats and sugars all get a pasting from 'public health' sorts worried about obesity. The truth is that it's a whole lot more complicated than all that but still in the end boils down to us sticking fewer calories in our gobs than we use. And we can achieve this in two ways - eating less and moving more.

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1 comment:

John Leach said...

I agree that government dietary policy is wrong (and has been since forever).

Claiming this is about "sticking fewer calories in our gobs" is fine, but that's only one part of a complex system. You can't ignore the biological drive to stick it in our gobs in the first place. The human body is not a simple combustion engine.

Sugar increases insulin production, which increases fat storage and stimulates appetite.

We might be eating less "free sugars" but that's not the only kind of sugar. White rice, wheat, potatoes etc are all sugars and they all have similar effects.

The reason this dietary advice is wrong is because it focuses solely on "free sugars", and not all sugars.