THERE are no punches pulled about sugar in the film Fed Up, which is causing a storm in America, the land of the free and the land of the obese. “This film unearths the dirty secret of the American food industry,” the trailer states boldly. “Junk food companies are behaving like tobacco companies did 30 years ago,” a leading doctor says angrily to the camera. “We have one of the great public health epidemics of our time,” another declares.
The storm raging across the Atlantic is about sugar, which many of us have been warning for a long time is the real cause of the western world’s obesity crisis, not fat or even lack of exercise (although our sedentary lifestyle certainly doesn’t help keep us healthy).
Fed Up predicts that 95 per cent of Americans will be overweight or obese in the next two decades unless something is done to tackle hidden sugars in everyday foods. Researchers found that of the 600,000 food items in American stores, a staggering 80 per cent have added sugar.
The film claims fast-food chains and the makers of processed foods add more sugar to supposedly-healthier “low fat” foods to make them tastier. Worryingly, it predicts that one third of adults will have diabetes within 40 years as our brains become increasingly hooked on sugar.
Hooked is an interesting word because it implies addiction – and that’s exactly what sugar does to the brain. I’ve written this and spoken about it so many times but it’s important that I keep hammering the message home: I’ve never met an obese person who wanted to be grossly, and in some cases morbidly, overweight. They tell me they feel out of control.
The vast quantities of hidden sugar they are consuming every day in food and drink is hooking their brains into repeating their food behaviour over and over and over. They are on a roundabout that’s harming them and they can’t get off.
This statistic from Fed Up horrified me: There are an estimated 600,000 different food products on sale in America and 80 per cent of them contain sugar.
Worthless, empty-calorie, unnecessary sugar that does nothing for the human condition. Did I mention it helps make food and drink manufacturers rich?
People who say fat people should stop and think what they’re doing to themselves and then do something about it completely misunderstand the way the human brain works.
Behaviour is triggered and controlled subconsciously without us realising it. Trying to think about our condition logically and rationally rarely achieves anything because the unconscious part of our mind is so incredibly powerful that it will almost always over-ride any remedial action we try. Only by retuning the unconscious can progress against obesity ever be made.
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Dr Mark Hyman, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, echoes my views, saying sugar is a “fundamental problem” which no one is talking about. “The message has been pushed onto us: it is your fault you’re fat. Forget about it.”
In Fed Up, Dr David Kessler, a former American Food and Drug Administration commissioner, raises the horrifying spectre that the obesity crisis fuelled by sugar will end up as “one of the greatest public health epidemics of our time.”
“We are toast as a country,” he declares.
In Britain, the typical person consumes 12 teaspoons of sugar a day and some adults consume as many as 46. And yet the food industry is in a state of denial.
“Sugar in food is not the cause of obesity” is still the official line. Remember when the tobacco companies swore blind that smoking did not cause cancer?
* This blog also appears in the Huffington Post