Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER -

on the de­cline.

Thomas Far­ley, the health com­mis­sioner in Philadel­phia, said it could take many years be­fore the pos­i­tive ef­fects from the re­duc­tions in soda con­sump­tion to turn up in health data. But he also noted that fac­tors like the growth in snack­ing, the avail­abil­ity of food in more places, and over­sized restau­rant dishes can fuel obe­sity.

“Sugar is a prob­lem, but sugar is not the only prob­lem,” Far­ley said.

And though it’s lower, sweet­ener con­sump­tion of 94 grams a day is still the equiv­a­lent of roughly two and half cans of Coke. That far ex­ceeds the gov­ern­ment’s rec­om­men­da­tion to limit added sugar to around 50 grams a day (200 calo­ries) for some­one on a 2,000-calo­rie diet.

No­tably, a per capita con­sump­tion fig­ure doesn’t ac­count for the wide dis­par­i­ties in in­take among in­di­vid­u­als. The way the USDA es­ti­mates sweet­ener con­sump­tion also means the spe­cific fig­ure could be higher or lower. The agency changed its method­ol­ogy in 2012, which meant a sharp re­duc­tion in how much sugar it said we con­sume. Emails ob­tained by the Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic In­ter­est, which sup­ports soda taxes, show that a sugar in­dus­try group wanted the change and hoped for “as low a per capita sweet­ener con­sump­tion es­ti­mate as pos­si­ble.”

There’s al­ways room for “im­prove­ment and re­fine­ment” in mak­ing food con­sump­tion es­ti­mates, said Michael McConnell, an agri­cul­ture econ­o­mist who spe­cial­izes in sweet­en­ers at the USDA. But he said the change in method­ol­ogy was ap­plied retroac­tively, so any trend the num­bers show would still be con­sis­tent. Even if the num­bers are in­ex­act, oth­ers agree the down­ward tra­jec­tory in sweet­en­ers makes sense.

That’s be­cause soda con­sump­tion started fall­ing around the same time, and is down 24 per­cent since 1998, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try tracker Bev­er­age Di­gest. Michael Ja­cob­son, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the CSPI, thinks it’s a ma­jor fac­tor — and per­haps the en­tire rea­son — for the drop in sweet­ener con­sump­tion.

The Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion, the trade group for Coke and Pepsi, says soda isn’t the driver of obe­sity rates, since those lev­els have climbed as soda drink­ing has de­clined.

Gary Taubes, a sci­ence au­thor, be­lieves the in­flux of sweet­en­ers and re­fined car­bo­hy­drates in di­ets has likely fu­eled obe­sity, but notes there’s am­bi­gu­ity in the ev­i­dence.

And Cristin Kearns, a for­mer den­tist who has been un­cov­er­ing doc­u­ments show­ing the sugar in­dus­try’s in­flu­ence on nu­tri­tion sci­ence, noted that “man­u­fac­tur­ers are get­ting crafty” about the types of sweet­en­ers they use, such as juice con­cen­trate, mean­ing they might not show up in con­sump­tion fig­ures.

As sugar comes un­der fire, food com­pa­nies are us­ing so­phis­ti­cated new meth­ods to re­duce sweet­en­ers with­out sac­ri­fic­ing sweet­ness. Con­sider the use of “sweet taste boost­ers” that am­plify smaller amounts of sweet­en­ers. The in­gre­di­ents are listed as “ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors” on pack­ages, ac­cord­ing to Seno­myx, a Cal­i­for­nia com­pany that makes them.

Ear­lier this year, My­coTech­nol­ogy be­gan mak­ing a “bit­ter blocker” that re­duces the need for sweet­en­ers that mask bit­ter­ness. The Colorado com­pany says it is made from a mush­room ex­tract and can be listed as a “nat­u­ral fla­vor.”

Some com­pa­nies have also switched back to “real sugar” to give their prod­ucts a more whole­some im­age, even though there may be no dif­fer­ence in calo­ries. While the over­all de­cline in sweet­en­ers re­flects the drop in high-fruc­tose corn syrup, the con­sump­tion of re­fined sugar has ac­tu­ally edged up in re­cent years.

In that small re­gard, sugar is en­joy­ing a re­vival.

“Sugar is a prob­lem, but sugar is not the only prob­lem.” — Thomas Far­ley, Philadel­phia health com­mis­sioner


A nu­tri­tion la­bel on a can of soda with the in­gre­di­ent high fruc­tose corn syrup is dis­played. Philadel­phia re­cently passed a tax on sug­ary drinks and in 2016, the gov­ern­ment rec­om­mended we limit our in­take of added sug­ars to 10 per­cent of daily calo­ries, un­der­scor­ing how sig­nif­i­cant elected of­fi­cials be­lieve the prob­lem is. But while de­ter­min­ing ex­actly how much sugar we’re con­sum­ing is a com­pli­cated busi­ness, the data and in­dus­try trends in­di­cate we’ve ac­tu­ally made progress in cut­ting back.

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