Controversy Around Cutting Sugar

The Lempert Report
December 04, 2015

A report on children consuming added sugars

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal Live Science and just about everyone else is talking about NEW RESEARCH PUBLISHED in Obesity journal in October that reports for children consuming added sugars it directly contributes to a litany of chronic diseases, particularly obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The study was financed by the National Institutes of Health. 

Jean-Marc Schwarz, a professor at Touro University California near San Francisco and senior author of the paper led his team of researchers to closely monitor 43 obese children and found that reducing the consumption of added sugar — even while maintaining the same number of calories, and the same amount of non-sugary junk food such as potato chips — led to a dramatic improvement in a cluster of health measures in just 10 days.

While this is a small study, the kids lowered their cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar and lost a little weight, too, despite no change in their calorie intake or physical activity which led Schwarz to say  "I have never seen results as striking or significant."

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Benioff Children's Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco and the lead author states that this study bolsters the evidence that added sugar is a harmful ingredient that needs to be regulated more strictly. Added sugar refers to natural sweeteners that are added to food to improve taste, extend shelf life or lower costs. The sweeteners are usually derived from sugar cane or beets, corn, sorghum, honey, maple syrup or agave. Added sugar does not include sugars found naturally in food, such as the fructose or fruit sugar found naturally in blueberries.

According to published reports, Schwarz and Lustig enrolled 43 African-American and Latino children who were obese and had at least one other chronic metabolic disorder, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. The researchers' goal was to isolate the effect of added sugars on the children's metabolism, keeping all other dietary inputs equal.

Virtually every health measure improved significantly for these children within 10 days of switching to this diet, even though the kids continued to eat some junk food, according to Lustig. Most of the children reported being too full on the new diet, despite the equal calories; 42 of the 43 found the diet very palatable.

There are some skeptics in addition to the industry groups who are trying to discredit the study. ”While this work is suggestive of a dramatic beneficial health effect, there are too many careful, well-controlled studies on this topic that do not find such unique, dramatic results," said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health. Popkin is a strong advocate for a tax on added sugar in drinks.

 Lustig and Schwarz say they want to expand the study to find out if eliminating sugars has a lasting effect on health.