Reported by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the 14-minute story called American’s consumption of processed sugar a public health crisis. Gupta interviewed several researchers and medical doctors for his report, including Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco, who said processed sugar is being targeted as a possible leading cause of increased childhood obesity and heart disease.
During his interview Dr. Lustig said sugar was “toxic” and called for Americans to reduce their sugar intake. If you saw the report you might have wondered if sugar was really that bad for you. I wondered the same thing.
Lustig and other researchers interviewed for the segment vilified sugar, saying American’s desire for good food “was killing us.” It seems everything’s bad for you these days and according to the ‘60 Minutes’ report, so is sugar.
Do Americans have a sweet tooth? Yes. Is it killing us? No. There are dozens of reasons for obesity and heart disease: smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and most importantly, heredity. One researcher interviewed for the report said sugar’s affect on the brain caused similar responses like that of cocaine. To group sugar into a class of illicit drugs like cocaine is as ludicrous as it is irresponsible. A lot of things cause pleasure receptors to fire in the brain; your team wins the big game with a last second field goal; finding out you just won the lottery. Euphoria, it seems, comes in many forms.
Dr. Lustig later closed the report by comparing sugar consumption to the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, two products that carry government –mandated warning labels. He seemed to imply that bags of sugar, candy bars, soda and apple pie should also bear similar warning labels.
For his report Dr. Gupta came to Louisiana, where he interviewed Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League. Simon countered some of the claims by urging moderation in all things, including sugar consumption. Simon also questioned the science associated with much of the claims about the so-called ills of sugar. In fact, according to the League in its recent ‘Sugar Packet’ newsletter, more than 1,000 scientific papers have been published that show no direct link between sugar consumption and illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Nor was anything mentioned about the purity, safety and wholesomeness of 100 percent pure cane sugar.
The entire ‘60 Minutes’ report on sugar lasted about 14 minutes. Jim Simon’s allotted rebuttal time was boiled down to just 54 seconds. The remaining time was dedicated to sources who said essentially that sugar was bad for you.
Sugar in fact, does contribute to a lot of things, particularly here in Louisiana. The $2.5 billion dollars the industry contributes to the Louisiana economy is just one of them. And then there are the 23,000 jobs the industry supports. Then there’s all the research that’s been done on sugar here in Louisiana for the last eight decades. Louisiana produces the safest sugar in the world. Its growers take pride in that, caring for their crop like no other producers.
While the ’60 Minutes’ report did say sugar consumption was down nearly 40 percent since the early 1970s, it didn’t point out that 1 teaspoon of sugar contains just 15 calories. Nor did it mention that only 4.2 percent of domestic sugar was used by the U.S. sweetened beverage industry last year. The majority of sweeteners that end up in cans of soda are made up of high fructose corn syrup.
So, should you stop eating candy or drinking soda? Should you pass on that dessert the next time you’re out? Only you can make those decisions. I’m not sure why ’60 Minutes’ chose to air such a report that put sugar in such a bad light. Maybe they had an agenda.
Personal health choices are just that, personal. Would sugar growers knowingly produce a product that some have called toxic? Certainly not. Would the Food and Drug Administration allow such a toxic product on the market? No. Then why does ’60 Minutes’ season such a report with a healthy dose of “the sky is falling?” I can’t say. It might be someone’s idea of good television, but it’s not very responsible television.