London Free Press columnist Ian Gillespie shows his results after being administered a blood sugar glucose test at St. Joseph's Health Care Centre in London on Monday November 14th, 2011.
Credits: CRAIG GLOVER/ The London Free Press / QMI AGENCY
In a commentary published in the journal Nature, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, say the over-consumption of sweets is causing a global obesity pandemic, resulting in 35 million deaths annually from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The United Nation cities alcohol, tobacco and diet as the central risk factors in these types of disease, the authors note.
"Two of these three - tobacco and alcohol - are regulated by governments to protect public health, leaving one of the primary culprits behind this worldwide health crisis unchecked."
And when it comes to diet, the authors say sugar - the consumption of which has tripled worldwide over the past 50 years - is the worst culprit.
"This is not just a problem of the developed world. Every country that has adopted the western diet - one dominated by low-cost, highly processed food - has witnessed rising rates of obesity and related diseases," write authors Robert Lustig and Claire Brindis.
"Evolutionarily, sugar as fruit was available to our ancestors for only a few months a year (at harvest time), or as honey, which was guarded by bees. But in recent years, sugar has been added to virtually every processed food, limiting consumer choice. Nature made sugar hard to get; man made it easy."
Not only can sugar "trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases," the authors note, but it also has the "potential for abuse."
"Like tobacco and alcohol, it acts on the brain to encourage subsequent intake. There are now numerous studies examining the dependence-producing properties of sugar in humans."
The authors offer a number of regulatory suggestions, such as increasing taxes on sweet stuff and tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars that sell sugary products in schools and workplaces.
"Another option would be to limit sales during school operation, or to designate an age limit (such as 17) for the purchase of drinks with added sugar, particularly soda," the article reads.
"We're not talking prohibition," author Claire Schmidt, a professor of health policy, said in a university press release about the report.
"We're not advocating a major imposition of the government into people's lives. We're talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose. What we want is to actually increase people's choices by making foods that aren't loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get."
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians consume 110 grams of sugar a day (the equivalent of 26 teaspoons), accounting for 20% of our daily caloric intake.