America ‘Runs’ on Sugar

A sugar epidemic has taken hold of America, which leads to a host of health problems including, but not limited to, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. According to an extensive PBS interview with Marion Nestle, chair of New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health;  in the late 1980’s two major reports were published which demonized fats in foods. Nestle says the Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition in Health published in 1980 credited many saturated fats as a major contribution to an increase in body fat. However, since the distinction wasn’t clear at the time, fat, in general, was vilified. Accordingly, responding to public pressure, food manufacturers looked for a viable substitute for the flavor which fat ads; they settled on sugar and for the last 20 years American has seen arduous implications.

Although much speculation exists on the exact number, Americans have drastically increased their dietary sugar intake from the late 70’s to 2000. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes 156 pounds, about an average person’s weight, of added sugar a year. In contrast, the World Health Organization’s recommended daily allowance of sugar is only 5% of one’s daily calorie intake, which is 35.7 grams for the average male, and 25 grams for the average female. This recommendation was recently changed from 10% to the current 5%.

The Centers for Disease Control marks diabetes sharply increasing from 1980 to 2014, with the number of affected Americans going from 5.5 million to 22 million. Adults are not the only ones affected, adolescent type two diabetes has skyrocketed as well. The United States Department of Agriculture cites 57,638 cases of type two diabetes in adolescents in 2010. This marks a distinct contrast as in 1980 zero cases of adolescent type two diabetes had been recorded. The massive increase in sugar affects the population, and future generations alike.

Added sugars are found in many places people don’t expect.  Popular bread brands use sugar to improve flavor. Wonder Bread was the first to begin this tradition in an effort to make bread more appealing (NY Times).  Restaurants add sugars to soups and salads to increase a customer’s appetite, and a grande latte from Starbucks has upwards of 30 grams of sugar; almost 90% of an average males daily intake recommendation (WHO).  

Summarizing what people should know about a balanced diet, SPSCC nutrition professor Sarah Cabbage suggests to, “Learn how to read a nutrition label, minimize added sugars, salt, and fat; eat less red meat and get more protein from fish and plant sources; eat more fruits and vegetables.”  People are often are consuming much more added sugars than they are aware of.  This can overtime unbeknownst to them, can contribute towards diseases like diabetes. According to Laura Schmidt, Ph.d., a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, sugar can contribute not only to diabetes, but can also, “wreak havoc on our livers, muck up our metabolism, impair brain function, and oh yeah, add unnecessary fat.” According to Schmidt, excess sugar can also leave us susceptible to heart disease and cancer; which is especially concerning since about 80 % of our choices contain sugar.

Our brains are wired to respond positively to sugar because it was a marker for a good food resource for our ancestors.  Brain scans of people eating sugar show the same parts of the brain lighting up as people who have done cocaine, according to Yale University.  Hundreds of thousands of years ago, sugary food meant food with more energy; something our ancestors lacked.  Easy access to sugar in genetic terms is a recent phenomenon.   

In regards to the new Barnes & Noble Cafe in the Student Life building, SPSCC Nutrition Professor Christopher Brand says, “It’s definitely not in the best interest of the students and it’s a tragedy that they have been let it in.”  As a student, it can be easier to find the education about healthy eating than the actual resources to do so.  Cheap foods usually mean unhealthy foods, and a majority of restaurants are not healthy choices according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the CDC. Cabbage says to start with “food prepping” while still in college to cultivate good habits early and then build on them. The greatest advantage for students is the education available through higher-education in this matter; after that, the responsibility becomes conveying that knowledge to one’s peers.

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