Food and Behaviour Research

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15 Jan 2013 - BMJ - Science Souring on Sugar

Walter C Willett & David S Ludwig

Accumulating evidence points towards a role for sugar and other refined carbohydrates in the development of overweight

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

The news that that sugary foods and drinks really do make us fatter (as shown in a new meta-analysis) shouldn't really be too surprising - but for 40 years most medical and public health authorities (and the food industry) have tried to place the blame firmly on dietary fat instead, urging us to consume 'low-fat' diets, which are of course usually high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates. 

See also the article 'Sugar and the Heart - Old Ideas Revisited' from the same issue of the BMJ, paying tribute to the pioneering work of the UK physiologist and nutrition specialist John Yudkin, whose 1970s book 'Pure White and Deadly' was ignored by policymakers at the time.  

His son - Professor Michael Yudkin - will be speaking at two forthcoming FAB events on the legacy left by his father's work.

Sugar, Fat and the Public Health Crisis

Sugar and the Brain: Food Choice, Addiction and the Mental Health Crisis

Sugar—most importantly sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup—has long been thought to have adverse health effects, such as contributing to dental caries, overweight, diabetes, and heart disease. A linked feature comments on the 40th anniversary of the publication of the popular book—Pure, White and Deadly—written by the British physiologist John Yudkin, which claimed that high sugar consumption was associated with heart disease.1 2

The association between sugar and poor health has remained contentious over the past few decades. This is partly because of weaknesses in the data (Yudkin’s conclusions were largely based on comparisons of sugar intake and disease rates among different populations, which is generally considered a weak form of evidence) and because powerful economic interests are invested in the production and sale of sugar based products.

The tension between industry and scientists can be illustrated by a 2003 recommendation from the World Health Organization that sugar intake be limited to 10% of energy intake,3 which was heavily attacked by the sugar industry and many governments, but was ultimately sustained.

Because WHO plans to update its recommendations, a systematic review of the literature on the association between sugar consumption and body weight was commissioned, the findings of which are presented in the linked paper by Te Morenga and colleagues.4