Sugar & Soda: The Cigarettes Of The Future
I recently came across a New York Times story with the provocative headline: Is Sugar Toxic? If you haven’t seen it yet, the entire story is worth reading and provides a look at just how dangerous sugar may be in our diets.
The impetus for that story? A YouTube video where Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods.
Looking at the data, it’s a pretty damning correlation between health issues such as obesity and sugar intake as the graph below shows.
Of course, this data is not really new, but beginning to be more widely shared in tandem with a population suffering an increasing amount of illness. But what is especially interesting to me is thinking back to how this parallels the beginning stages of when the world started to wake up to the health risks associated with cigarettes. Nowadays, fewer and fewer people smoke as the risks are very clear. The industry itself is regulated and taxed heavily in an effort to (at least try and) offset the additional weight placed on our healthcare system.
Already, sales of soda are already beginning to reflect a backlash against sugar as well:
The trend is clear in media exposure and general awareness of the detriment of sugar to our health: more are seeing it as a poor choice (the graph above may indicate we’ve already passed peak soda consumption). In 10 years, I predict we’ll all start to bucket sugar similarly to cigarettes. The media, health and research tipping points are already coming together. Perhaps cans of soda will even begin to start showing warning labels although this is yet to be seen.
The debate on just how dangerous sugar is to us is of course only now unfolding. But just like cigarettes, I think we underestimate the danger because we’ve become accustomed to sugar / highly-sweet drinks, and change is always difficult for society. I’d be happy to be wrong about this one and sugar in the quantities Americans consume turns out to be benign, but I don’t think that will be the case.
Bonus: if you’re curious what areas of the supermarket are to blame (aside from the obvious like soda) Wired has some great infographics articulating this.