Diabetes affects over 25 million Americans today, more than 8 percent of the population. One in four seniors suffers from the disease, and the numbers among young people, including teenagers, are dramatically on the rise. Over a third of all diabetics in the United States remain undiagnosed and are not treated, according to the latest statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In most cases, type 2 diabetes (traditionally known as adult onset diabetes) develops in connection with overweight and obesity. A new study, however, found that consuming large amounts of sugar may cause the disease independently from weight problems.
For the study, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) compared the availability of sugar and diabetes rates in 175 countries. The underlying data came from the Food and Agricultural Organization (http://www.fao.org/index_en.htm) of the United Nations and the International Diabetes Federation.
The scientists believe they have clearly identified a correlation between rising sugar consumption and the growing diabetes epidemic. Specifically, they found that an additional 150 calories from sugar per person per day – the equivalent of just one 12-ounce soda drink – increased the prevalence of diabetes by one percent in that population. The longer the exposure to the higher amount of sugar lasted, the more pronounced the diabetes risk became. Conversely, whenever sugar consumption was reduced, diabetes rates diminished as well. These variations still registered when other potentially contributing factors like weight, age, gender and race were taken into account.
While the research cannot prove direct causation, the evidence is compelling, said Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF and senior author of the study. “This study is proof enough that sugar is toxic. Now it’s time to do something about it,” he was quoted saying by the New York Times (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/its-the-sugar-folks/).
Many of his colleagues in the science community agree. “The results make clear that sugar consumption is fueling the global epidemic of diabetes and that reducing that consumption is an essential step in controlling the rise of the disorder,” said Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, to the Los Angeles Times.
Based on his findings, Dr. Lustig said, manufacturers of sugary sodas can no longer claim that calories from their products don’t differ from those of other sources.
In an op-ed article (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/its-the-sugar-folks/) written in response to the study, Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times, called for immediate action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that should include re-evaluating the toxicity of sugar and removing fructose (the molecule that gives sugar its sweet taste) from the list of products the government considers safe to use.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group, has reportedly petitioned the FDA to revise safety limits for sugar consumption
By contrast, the American Beverage Association (http://ameribev.org/) (ABA) has rejected the conclusions drawn from the study. “This study does not show – or even attempt to show – that consuming sugar causes diabetes,” the trade group says in a statement on its website.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter (http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/TimiGustafsonRD).