Sugar – is there a more popular word for dieticians and nutritionists? Interestingly, economists have also been talking about the pure white stuff – but in a different context than the standard ‘insulin and cravings’ discussions. A new piece in The Atlantic discussed just how much money is spent on selling Americans sugar, every single day of our lives.1
Though nothing truly shocks me anymore, in the sleazy world of processed food marketing, I was a bit taken aback to realize that Kellogg’s spent $32 million on advertising their (truly awful) Pop Tarts last year. With that money, we could be helping to fix the obesity pandemic we are all collectively in, instead.2 3 4 5 70% of Americans are now overweight, and 30% of us are obese – couldn’t we allocate these funds better? I think so.6
But, instead, we get a new flavor of the Franken-Food that absolutely no one (let alone developing children) should eat for breakfast. Or any other time of day, for that matter. But the depressing statistics don’t end there. Last year, Coca-Cola spent over $250 million advertising their flagship sugar water. And for a quick science detour, remember that sugar has been shown to demonstrate a set of behaviors and parallel brain changes that are characteristic of addictive drugs.7 8 9 10
Back to the money spent on sugar. Pepsi seems almost saint-like by comparison here, as they only spent $150 million advertising Gatorade last year. Keep in mind that all of the products listed so far (we’re at a total of $432 million at this point) are just brightly colored versions of sugar. This would almost be comical, if it weren’t destroying our collective health.11 12 13 14
I hope you’ve buckled up, because this is where things turn truly depressing. Did you know that our own government (who – obviously – should be looking out for our collective health) spent less than 0.5% of all agricultural subsidies on production of fruits and vegetables? You read that right – that’s less than 1%. Should less than 1% of any food-related funding be going to fruits and vegetables? Shouldn’t the majority of funding be going to fruits and vegetables? I feel like we are all in a bad Twilight Zone episode here.
And, while I wholeheartedly believe in freedom, liberty, and a free market economy, when you have 70% of the population overweight, and one in three people obese, you need to make some changes, and you need to have some oversight. It doesn’t take an advanced college degree, or even a high school diploma to see the problem here. As the old saying goes, numbers don’t lie.
I will leave you with one more staggering fact, which shows how truly disconnected we have become, from our Paleo ancestors. Fruits and vegetables are the only foods, which all nutrition experts can agree upon; we should be eating, ad libitum. But do you know what classification they have, by our own U.S. Department Of Agriculture? Their classification is only a brief two words: ‘specialty crops’.
Hopefully in your own personal, ongoing scientific experiment (that is your life), fruits and vegetables are not ‘specialty crops’. They should be part of your main course. I hope I’ve given you some real things to think about here. And remember – our children and future grandchildren are the ones who will suffer the most from this ludicrous sugar economy we are allowing to persist. Not us.
While it is easy to be complacent, apathetic, and not do anything, you have a voice. And what is a democracy, if not simply a collection of individual voices? Make your voice be heard, and tell the world where you stand on the true price of sugar.
1 Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/the-money-spent-selling-sugar-to-americans-is-staggering/407350/. Accessed September 29, 2015.
2 Roth J, Qiang X, Marbán SL, Redelt H, Lowell BC. The obesity pandemic: where have we been and where are we going?. Obes Res. 2004;12 Suppl 2:88S-101S.
3 Swinburn BA, Sacks G, Hall KD, et al. The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments. Lancet. 2011;378(9793):804-14.
4 Catenacci VA, Hill JO, Wyatt HR. The obesity epidemic. Clin Chest Med. 2009;30(3):415-44, vii.
5 Popkin BM, Adair LS, Ng SW. Global nutrition transition and the pandemic of obesity in developing countries. Nutr Rev. 2012;70(1):3-21.
6 Available at: http://www.toledoblade.com/Food/2015/06/23/70-of-Americans-overweight-or-obese-study-finds.html. Accessed September 29, 2015.
7 Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20-39.
8 Lustig RH. Fructose: it’s “alcohol without the buzz”. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(2):226-35.
9 Lustig RH. Fructose: metabolic, hedonic, and societal parallels with ethanol. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(9):1307-21.
10 Volkow ND, Wang GJ, Fowler JS, Telang F. Overlapping neuronal circuits in addiction and obesity: evidence of systems pathology. Philos Trans R Soc Lond, B, Biol Sci. 2008;363(1507):3191-200.
11 Puhl R, Brownell KD. Bias, discrimination, and obesity. Obes Res. 2001;9(12):788-805.
12 Brownell KD, Kersh R, Ludwig DS, et al. Personal responsibility and obesity: a constructive approach to a controversial issue. Health Aff (Millwood). 2010;29(3):379-87.
13 Vartanian LR, Schwartz MB, Brownell KD. Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Public Health. 2007;97(4):667-75.
14 Brownell KD, Warner KE. The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died. How similar is Big Food?. Milbank Q. 2009;87(1):259-94.