As U.S. obesity rates remain sky-high, public health advocates have been tackling the epidemic from all sides. But as Dr. Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the New York Times, curbing excess sugar consumption could go a long way towards getting Americans on a healthier track:
“Just to assure you that sugars are not toxins, I use a teaspoon of sugar in my tea every day and I’m sure it’s not poison,” Dr. Jacobson said. “It’s the overconsumption that is par for the course in the U.S. that we’re concerned about.”
The center is also asking the agency to set voluntary limits on sweeteners in packaged goods, like cereals and snacks, and to mount an educational campaign to help consumers reduce added sugars in their diet.
“This is on solid legal ground,” Dr. Jacobson said. “It’s just a question of whether the F.D.A. will act or what it will take to get the F.D.A. to act.”
Public health officials in the cities that signed the petition [encouraging the FDA to act] said they did so out of concerns that obesity was contributing to rising rates of health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes and even gout, all of which are increasing among the populations they serve.
While the FDA’s efforts to curb obesity — particularly childhood obesity — have centered on encouraging healthy school lunches and posting caloric information on vending machines, a rule encouraging producers to limit fatty substances in their products might be more effective. That way, the Americans who would like to indulge in sugary treats could still do so, but without causing as much harm to their bodies.
Some public health advocates have called for more extreme measures, such as provisions that are in place in some European countries that tax sugary products at a higher rate. However, as Aaron Carroll of the Incidental Economist points out, such measures tend to be politically difficult and lead to mediocre improvements in public health. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) has successfully lobbied major food companies to reduce the sodium content in their products — the FDA could encourage them to take similar and more widespread action when it comes to sugar.