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Sugar as a controlled substance

Alcohol, tobacco… and candy bars!? Maybe someday soon.

Sugar needs to be controlled to protect public health, according to a new report by UCSF researchers.

They say the sweet stuff contributes to 35 million deaths a year worldwide via conditions related to obesity like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Conditions like these now pose a greater risk to worldwide health than infectious disease, according to the U.N.

UCSF colleagues Dr. Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt, and Claire Brindis, agree that sugar is the primary cause of the obesity crisis – blaming its potential for abuse, its toxicity, and the role it plays in the Western diet.

“As long as the public thinks that sugar is just ‘empty calories,’ we have no chance in solving this,” said Lustig. “But sugar is toxic beyond its calories.”

The authors of the report argue that sugar, especially at levels consumed by most Americans, drastically changes metabolism, raises blood pressure, misfires the signaling of hormones and causes serious liver problems.

In the U.S., 75 percent of all dollars spent on healthcare are allocated to treating diseases and disabilities that can be linked to obesity or excessive sugar intake.

According to Brindis, interventions need to focus on environmental and community-wide solutions, similar to how we handle alcohol and tobacco. These solutions include levying special sales taxes, controlling access, and tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars that sell sugary snacks in schools and workplaces.

“We’re not talking prohibition,” Schmidt said. “We’re not advocating a major imposition of the government into people’s lives. We’re talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose.”

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