Is Sugar the New Tobacco?

When money, research and marketing come together, there is a possibility that health risks will be masked by slick advertising for the sake of profit.

Such was the case with tobacco. Some doctors, scientists and concerned citizens think the same is true for sugar. Certainly, there are similarities in the effects and marketing of both sugar and tobacco products.

The Addiction Factor

Today, we are all aware that tobacco products contain highly addictive substances. Although topping off nutritious meals with a sweet dessert is not generally addicting, regularly consuming high quantities of sugary food puts our brains reward center into overdrive.

  • Regular consumption of sugary food triggers high dopamine levels in our brain.
  • A dopamine release in the brain creates that warm, fuzzy feel-good sensation we call pleasure.
  • This good feeling prompts us to want more of the pleasure-causing substance, whether a sugary food or a drug. We may even develop a craving for it.

People who eat a lot of processed food – which contains added sugars – may be putting their reward center into overdrive without realizing it. A few individuals, by consuming sugar-laden foods over time, lose control over their eating habits and might be diagnosed with a sugar addiction.

Consuming a lot of sugar is also associated with physical health risks, which have been glossed over in the marketing of sugar products. This is reminiscent of health risks suppressed by the tobacco industry via lobbying and advertising.

Health Risks and Lobbying

It took the relentless work of whistle blowers and intrepid non-mainstream reporters to bring the health risks of tobacco products into general awareness. Similarly, scientifically proven health risks of sugar consumption have been leaking into public awareness instead of being transparently revealed by mainstream agencies and media.

For instance, the sugar industry has known since the 1950s that sugar is the primary cause of dental cavities. Yet The National Institutes of Health somehow concluded in 1969 that a focus on lowering sugar consumption was an impractical measure for reducing tooth decay – a home run for the sugar lobby.

“These tactics are strikingly similar to what we saw in the tobacco industry in the same era,” said Stanton Glantz, a researcher from the University of California at San Francisco. Glantz recently discovered the “lost” papers revealing the sugar industry’s knowledge about the causative link between sugar and tooth decay.

A recent article in Newsweek states:

According to a new report from the Center for Science and Democracy ... industry groups representing companies that sell sweeteners, like the Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association ... have poured millions of dollars into countering science that indicates negative health consequences of eating their products.

Advertising Success

The countering of science by an industry is partly achieved through advertising. Ads and packaging historically did a great job of stroking our desire for pleasure to sell lung-polluting cigarettes. It was “cool” to smoke in the early-and-mid 20th century, or at least advertising and movies made it seem so.

Today there are many ways for manufacturers to mask the issue of health risks when marketing sugary products, and they know how to tweak our taste buds. About 13 percent of the daily American diet is sugar, despite mounting evidence that it contributes to epidemics of chronic disease.

Our daily sugar intake should be no more than 5 percent to avoid obesity and illnesses such as type 2 diabetes.

So is sugar the new tobacco? It seems we end where we began: When money, research and marketing come together, there is a possibility that health risks will be masked by lobbying efforts and slick advertising for the sake of profit.

Sources: PLOS.org; mercola; wddty; Dopamine and the Brain (video)
Photo by Romain Behar

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