Over the past half-century, the rate of obesity in America has nearly tripled, while the incidence of diabetes has increased roughly seven-fold. It’s estimated that the direct health care costs related to obesity and diabetes in the United States is $1 billion a day, while economists have calculated the indirect costs to society of these epidemics at over $1 trillion a year.
In recent years, some researchers have focused on the particular role refined sugar may play in these epidemics. Perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of this research has been put forth by the science journalist, Gary Taubes, author of the recent book, “The Case Against Sugar.” I spoke with Taubes about his research and what people should know about sugar to make better choices in their diets.
David Bornstein: What’s the essence of the case against sugar?
Gary Taubes: To understand the case against sugar, using a criminal justice metaphor, you have to understand the crimes committed: epidemics of diabetes and obesity worldwide. Wherever and whenever a population transitions from its traditional diet to a Western diet and lifestyle, we see dramatic increases in obesity, and diabetes goes from being a relatively rare disorder to a common one. One in 11 Americans now has diabetes. In some populations, one in three or four adults have diabetes. Stunning numbers.
So why sugar? Well, for starters, recent increases in sugar consumption are always at the scene of the crime on a population-wide level when these epidemics occur. And sugar is also at the scene of the crime biologically, and it’s got the mechanism necessary. But the evidence is not definitive; what I’m arguing is still a minority viewpoint.