- NEW YORK -- Refined sugar
is the world's most popular and widely used drug. (Webster's Dictionary
defines a drug as a "chemical substance used to alter the state of
body or mind.")
- We don't usually think of sugar and other favourite stimulants
such as coffee or tea as "drugs," but they all have marked effects
on the human body.
- The UN's World Health Organization has launched an international
campaign to cut consumption of refined sugar, which it says is the principal
culprit in the current epidemic of obesity and its associated diseases,
diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.
- Americans, who comprise only 5% of the world's population,
account for a whopping 33% of total global sugar consumption - over 10
million tons annually.
- According to the WHO, over half of Americans are overweight
and 31% - 38.8 million people - are obese. Obesity rates in children have
risen 50% in recent years.
- Americans have become sugar junkies and, sad to say,
a nation of fatties, the world's most overweight people. Europeans laugh
at obese American tourists as they waddle down the street.
- It's hard to find any processed food products these days
without some form of added sugars: sucrose, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup,
maltodextrin. A can of pop can easily contain eight tablespoons of refined
sugar. France and Australia have been forced to produce sweeter wines to
cater to the sugar-craving U.S. market. Carbohydrates, the basic material
for all breads, potatoes, cakes and snack foods, are quickly converted
by the body into simple sugar, and then stored as fat.
- Incredibly, the Bush administration is strongly opposing
the WHO's campaign to limit sugar intake to 10% of total caloric consumption.
President George Bush seems to think lots of sugar is just dandy.
- Critics of Bush see this as yet another example of the
radical, far-right ideology of his administration, which seems never to
have seen a tree it did not want to cut down, an animal it did not want
to shoot, or a park it did not want to pave.
- But there's much more here than just Cro-Magnon anti-environmentalism.
The brilliant Republican strategist Kevin Phillips wrote in American Conservative
that his party has gone from being a small-government conservative movement
to a collection of special interests feeding off and backing ever bigger
government. Sugar is a prime example.
- Even though Bush's home state of Texas has some of the
highest rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the U.S., the president
and his men insist heavy sugar consumption does not cause disease.
- The U.S. secretary of health actually claims, in the
face of a mountain of scientific evidence to the contrary, that it's fine
to get 25% of one's calories from refined sugar!
- The real reason for the administration's preposterous
position is that the powerful U.S. sugar industry is one of its biggest
financial backers, and a major power in the key electoral state of Florida.
The sugar industry is also one of Washington's most successful lobby groups
and a huge contributor to congressmen and senators of both parties.
- The result: the federal government subsidizes U.S. sugar
producers to the tune of $1.4 billion US annually. Import restrictions
protect them from foreign competition and keep domestic sugar prices three
or four times higher than world prices. Sugar remains the nation's most
heavily subsidized crop at almost $500 per acre per annum.
- So American consumers pay inflated prices for sugar while
tiny West Indian sugar-producing islands, that depend on the crop, are
shut out of the U.S. market. Worse, sugar cultivation has damaging environmental
effects. In Florida, 500,000 acres of the Everglades wetlands, one of America's
natural treasures, have been destroyed to make room for growing sugar.
- Joining the sugar industry in opposing the WHO campaign
are America's biggest food and drink producers, led by the mighty Coca-Cola
Company, and sugar exporting nations.
- Nefarious plot
- Instead of setting a positive example for the rest of
the world by nudging Americans to lower their sugar consumption, the Bush
administration seems to see UN efforts as some sort of nefarious foreign
- But action is urgently needed: the UN found that 60%
of disease worldwide is now caused by cardiovascular ailments, which are
directly linked to over-consumption of sugar, saturated and trans-fats,
and increasing lack of exercise caused by too much TV viewing.
- All developed nations face this problem to varying degrees.
In the Middle East, Pakistan and India, over-consumption of fats and sugar
are now the gravest public health problem after malnutrition. But no one
wants to give up their beloved pastries, sweet tea or fatty mutton.
- This column does not like government intervention in
people's lives. Years ago, when the anti-smoking jihad began, I wrote that
fatty burgers killed 10 times more people than cigarettes and, logically,
should also be banned.
- But the sugar epidemic has become such a peril to public
health that government should act. Not to confiscate sugar from people's
homes, but to end sugar subsidies, ban all advertising of sugar-laden products
to children, get soft drinks out of schools, and educate Americans about
the perils of too much refined sugar.
- Eric can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org