09/07/14 – Too Much Sugar

Speaker: Dr Robert Lustig, author Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar

Wednesday 9 July 2014

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Health Childhood

Baroness Benjamin welcomed attendees; in particular the new group member representing Waitrose. She then asked Helen Clark to give an update on the current Working Group Report; a first draft is due to be circulated after the summer, around party political conference time.

Baroness Benjamin then invited Dr Robert Lustig to address the meeting.

Dr Robert Lustig: There is too much sugar, the UK diabetes crisis is a national health emergency; however, it is not actually related to childhood obesity, this would be the wrong focus.

The world-wide concentration on obesity is similarly incorrect; diet and exercise will not solve the problem. The source of weight gain (of which insulin, the energy storage hormone is a determinant) and the science of weight gain, explain why such an approach cannot work.

He illustrated his argument by reference to two patients who lost weight after being targeted with insulin “limiting” treatments. He emphasised that the treatment dealt with biochemical abnormalities, rather than obesity.

Obesity should be treated as a metabolic disfunction.  He argued against ‘less food; lose weight’ formulae (stating that this leads to less energy expenditure).

Sloth and gluttony result in the recidivism of obesity; 99% of children cannot lose weight.

Science proves that this is not a solution to the problem.

By tackling gluttony and sloth and thereby, metabolic disfunction, obesity, gluttony and sloth are beaten. Once the biochemistry is addressed, the risk of fatty liver disease and diabetes decreases. Sugar causes the abnormal biochemistry.

Science teaches that insulin levels are high whilst activity levels are low. High insulin levels encourage over-eating and insufficient exercise.  Sugar damages insulin levels. Recent research identifies three problems caused by sugar:

  1. Sugar is metabolised by the liver, whilst glucose (starch) is metabolised throughout the body which then goes to a non-toxic muscular compound called glycogen. Fructose (the sweet molecule of sugar) causes the liver to over-produce fat, resulting in fatty liver disease, which drives all the chronic metabolic diseases, and is a precipitator of cancer, diabetes, dementia, polycystic ovarian disease and high lipid levels which cause heart disease. This is shown by new nutritional scientific data of 5/6 years standing.
  2. Cellular ageing. Sugar binds to protein. In the “Maillard Reaction”, the reaction of cellular ageing, the goal is to slow the process and increase life expectancy. Glucose causes this process and fructose accelerates it.
  3.  In nature no foodstuffs are sweet and acutely poisonous. Abuse–triggering substances operate from the same place in the brain as sugar; the pleasure centre. However, pleasure signals are transitory; dopamine (the pleasure receptor) requires more stimuli over time, resulting in tolerance and addiction. Potentially 20% of the population are sugar addicts. Sugar is toxic and routinely abused (metabolising in the same way as alcohol). Usually when society is faced with such characteristics in a substance it creates a way to prohibit it. With regard to sugar, the market has failed.

Sugar, like alcohol, is the instigator of cancer, fatty liver, dementia and type 2 diabetes. In the US, 1 in 3 children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes also have fatty liver.

Whilst the biochemistry must be addressed, the same should apply to re-modelling the environmental and societal climate and the behaviour of the food industries.


Baroness Benjamin asked Dr Lustig to expand upon the responsibility of the food industry for the current crisis.

Dr Robert Lustig replied that since the industrial revolution, the sugar consumption of the population had radically increased stating that more sugar was consumed in the 1980s because of misplaced promotion of low-fat products as a supposed deterrent to heart disease. ’Real’ food contains no added sugar and processed foods contain too little fibre, omega 3 and micronutrients whilst majoring in trans-fat, sugar, omega6 and chain amino acids. The food industry promotes processed foods because of the profit margin; thus encouraging over-consumption of ‘bad’ foods. Whilst some elements of the industry favoured healthier practices, all were reluctant to be pioneers due to possible financial down-turns.

Pepsi launched “Good for you” line and lost $300 million.

Campbell’s Soup launched “Healthy Request” line (with reduced salt) and lost money.

Valerie Vaz MP (Health Select Committee member) enquired how virtuous change might be encouraged.

Dr Robert Lustig affirmed that labelling and education–based ‘solutions’ would always be insufficient. A way forward could be to follow Nordic practice, whereby a combination of incentives and prohibitive taxes reduced alcohol consumption. Differential subsidisation was needed on ‘good’ foods such as broccoli.

Geraint Thomas MP suggested that ‘real food’ militated against the processing whereby companies ‘add value’, and increase prices.

Dr Robert Lustig said that subsidies could enable companies to charge more for ‘real food.’ A report by Credit Swiss proposed a sugar tax to address the rise in Type 2 diabetes, for which insurance companies would increasingly have to pay. A programme of food education should be a priority. For example, it was not generally known that the beneficial effects of exercise (including muscle-building) do not include weight loss.

The meeting concurred about the detrimental effects of cuts to local authority budgets, the relative expense of eating healthily and the adverse effects of targeting advertising at children.

Dr Robert Lustig observed that the only country that has banned junk food adverts to children is Chile and much could and should be done to address all the issues via legislation.

Baroness Benjamin thanked Dr Lustig for a stimulating talk and question and answer session which had galvanised the debate in a new and refreshing way.

Dr Robert Lustig   replied that the goal is ‘health and longevity’, with more desirable food options a first choice, rather than an easy reliance on Macdonalds and similar fast food products.