The Crusade Against Sugar Just Another Red Herring 

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you are keenly aware of the latest fad in the nutrition and diet wars – sugar.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating it, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is researching it, activist organizations are attacking it, nutritionists are preaching against it and the media is bashing it.

All of this activity has gotten the attention of consumers – many are confused and some are seeking to reduce their amount of sugar intake.  That means the issue has gotten the attention of food and beverage companies, many of which are seeking to reduce sugar content in their products.

Anyone over the age of 40 knows we have been through this before.  Eggs, red meat and dietary fat, to name a few, have been under the food microscope in recent decades.

Why? The answer is simple.  Obesity rates among children and adults have skyrocketed in recent years. And obesity brings with it related diseases like heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

Typical of American society, we do not have the patience to conduct a thorough investigation and put into place a comprehensive and long-term solution to obesity that addresses the true underlying causes – eating too much food and a lack of physical activity.

So we look for a quick fix we can believe in – a fad if you will.  Ban sugar, label sugar, tax sugar, restrict sugar and preach against sugar and all of our problems are solved. The FDA is even seeking to force food and beverage companies to label – for the first time – the amount of added sugar in their products.

What good will any of that do?

Carbohydrates and their sub-set of sugars are an essential part of the diet.  Humans need sugar for energy and brain function.  The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate nutrition advice recommends nearly 50% of calories come from carbohydrates, and the Institute of Medicine says 25% (or 500 calories a day) can come from sugar, whether naturally occurring or added sugars.  Most studies show the average American currently consumes less sugar than the IOM threshold.

This irrational focus on sugar will not solve obesity and related health issues.  Most Americans will continue to eat too much food – at home, away from home, in the workplace, at parties, on vacation and everywhere they go.    They will continue their sedentary ways.

Instead of addressing the real causes of obesity we are engaged in an expensive and shrill public and policy debate that will distract everyone – most importantly consumers – from reducing the amount of calories they consume and finding ways to be more active.

Unfortunately, the anti-sugar fad is here to stay, but for how long?

Eggs, red meat and dietary fat made a comeback once calmer heads prevailed and science reinforced their positive contributions to diet and health.  Eventually, sugar will make a comeback as well. But it is unfortunate that in the meantime, the assault on sugar will continue with little or no impact on obesity.

Sean McBride, Founder and Principal of DSM Strategic Communications & Consulting, is former Executive Vice President of Communications and Membership Services at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and former Director of Communications at the American Beverage Association