Is sugar the new to­bacco?

Consumer Voice - - Editor's Voice -

This was the ex­act topic of dis­cus­sion at a sym­po­sium or­gan­ised by All India In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Sciences (AIIMS) in Oc­to­ber 2016. This in­ter­na­tional sym­po­sium was or­gan­ised pri­mar­ily to de­mys­tify the ev­i­dence on sugar con­sump­tion reach­ing lev­els of ad­dic­tion akin to to­bacco and to have doc­tors across India alert their pa­tients about the ills of ex­ces­sive sugar in­take. The renowned med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als par­tic­i­pat­ing at the sym­po­sium had dis­cussed how ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of sug­ary drinks and pack­aged and junk food was mak­ing mat­ters worse as con­sump­tion of aer­ated drinks and junk, es­pe­cially pack­aged foods, made peo­ple un­wit­tingly ad­dicted to sugar, lead­ing to a crav­ing for it, and even­tu­ally wreck­ing their over­all health. The doc­tors stated that this ad­dic­tion to sugar was sim­i­lar to ad­dic­tion to to­bacco, and hence a mat­ter of great worry.

In­ter­est­ingly, the con­cern that In­dian med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers for­mally started ex­press­ing just about a year ago had be­come a sub­ject of pol­icy-level dis­cus­sions across Europe and the United States about half a decade ago. In 2015, Ac­tion on Sugar, a cam­paign started by an In­dian doc­tor named Aseem Mal­ho­tra, de­manded strin­gent norms to con­trol sugar quan­ti­ties in pack­aged foods. The cam­paign re­ceived much-needed me­dia at­ten­tion and man­aged to in­flu­ence the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) as it is­sued guide­lines rec­om­mend­ing re­duc­tion of sugar in­take for adults and chil­dren. A year later, WHO also re­leased a re­port wherein it clas­si­fied sugar as a threat and sug­gested ex­tra taxes for sugar-based drinks – like it hap­pened on to­bacco – as that would help in low­er­ing their con­sump­tion and at the same time would re­duce cases of obe­sity, type 2 di­a­betes and tooth de­cay.

Con­sid­er­ing that the gov­ern­ments on our side of the con­ti­nent are yet to take a de­ci­sive ac­tion against to­bacco lob­bies, it makes sense for them to turn a blind eye or stay in de­nial. They have just about un­der­stood the the­ory that ex­plains that taxes from to­bacco are not meet­ing the con­cur­rent pub­lic health­care costs. It will be un­fair to in­tro­duce them to pure, white and deadly, which ap­par­ently is the ti­tle of a book by John Yud­kin, one of the United King­dom’s most prom­i­nent nu­tri­tion­ists. The book, through cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dences, ex­plains how sugar’s rapid rise to promi­nence in the West­ern diet, start­ing in the mid-19th cen­tury, had co­in­cided with a sud­den out­break of heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and obe­sity. The nar­ra­tive jus­ti­fies how one had caused the other.

Iron­i­cally, when I searched Google to com­pre­hend the In­dian govern­ment’s stance on sugar, I stum­bled upon this in­ter­est­ing bit of news: The cen­tral govern­ment in Au­gust had placed curbs on sugar stocks as an at­tempt to re­strain mills from hoard­ing and push­ing up prices when the de­mand for sugar spiked dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son. Of course, it can also be looked at as an at­tempt to en­sure that sug­ary foods (aer­ated, milk-based and fruit drinks, can­dies, choco­lates, cook­ies, In­dian sweets, but­ters, breads, wines, snacks…) do not be­come dearer, and the in­dus­try does not suf­fer.

Any­way, my idea of writ­ing this is not to crib about the poli­cies, etc. The thought be­hind this piece is to alert read­ers, to warn them to keep a check on sugar in­take (not just their own but also that of their dear ones, es­pe­cially chil­dren) by avoid­ing buy­ing un­nec­es­sary pack­aged foods. When they do buy, they may avoid pack­aged foods that have sugar amongst the three main in­gre­di­ents. Thank­fully, in the last few years we have man­aged the man­dat­ing of list­ing all in­gre­di­ents and declar­ing the nu­tri­tious value of the prod­uct on the la­bel.

I wish sweet fes­tiv­i­ties to you all..

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