It’s not your imagination. We are getting fatter.

More than half a billion adults in the world are obese and that number is growing. Obesity doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The consumption of sugary drinks has been linked not only to obesity, but also to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Something has to change.

Sugar Manipulates Research

UC San Francisco scientists and researchers made headlines worldwide earlier this year after showing evidence that the sugar industry had been downplaying the dangers of sugar, at the expense of fat, since the 1960s. Here’s more about the blockbuster story.

Was Big Sugar trying to influence research that shows the link between poorer metabolic health and sugary drinks consumption? Absolutely. That’s the findings of a team of UC San Francisco researchers who examined 15 years of experimental research studies.

As expressed in a recent review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

“This industry seems to be manipulating contemporary scientific processes to create controversy and advance their business interests at the expense of the public health.”

See more in a recent Los Angeles Times article.

Taxation at Work

On Nov. 8, voters in Boulder, Colorado and the Bay Areas of Oakland, San Francisco and Albany will vote on whether to tax their sugary drinks to reduce consumption. In Philadelphia, the city council is already enacting its own 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax to take effect in January, 2017.

Are these types of taxes effective at reducing soda consumption?

Yes. And the results are better than expected, according to the nation’s first soda tax in Berkeley, California. Two low-income Berkeley neighborhoods reported drinking 21 percent less sugar-sweetened beverages and 26 percent less soda than a year before, according to a report by UC Berkeley public health researchers in the October American Journal of Public Health.

Reuters gives more details in this article.

And it’s not just Berkeley, California either. Mexico also has a 10 percent excise tax on sugary beverages, which has been showing impressive results since it was introduced in 2014.

The Mexican sugary beverage tax is expected to prevent approximately 190,000 cases of diabetes, 20,000 heart attacks and strokes, and 19,000 deaths among Mexicans aged 35 to 94 over the next 10 years, according to investigators at UC San Francisco and the Instituto Nacional Salud de Publica in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The study is published in PLOS Medicine. Here are more details.

According to Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor, these results are very encouraging:

“WHO recently endorsed taxation as an evidence-based approach to reduce chronic disease and obesity, but it recommended a 20 percent tax to be effective,” explains Schmidt. “The Berkeley and Mexican results prove taxation actually works at a much lower threshold than we thought. That’s exciting news.”

Sugar and Addiction

What type of role does sugar play in people’s food addictions, leading to obesity? That was the topic of a recent food and addiction seminar, which was hosted by the Sugar, Stress, Environment, and Weight (SSEW) Center, a collaborative group of researchers from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

How can you break the junk food habit and reduce sugar consumption in your lives … especially during the holidays? A group of addiction experts offered these tips for reducing junk food.

“The average amount of added sugar in the American diet is more than 20 teaspoons per day,” says Pat Crawford, senior director of research for UC’s Nutrition Policy Institute. “Since about half of this sugar comes in the form of beverages, we have to rethink our beverage choices. Water should be the beverage of choice.”

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Pat Crawford in our Q&A about sugar, nutrition and obesity.

Soda can
Photo by jpokelele.

Sugar-Free Zone at UCSF

Understanding how addicting sugary drinks can be, the UC San Francisco campus removed every single sugar-sweetened drink from its stores, food trucks and vending machines. Even fast-food chains have stopped selling the drinks at the university’s request.

Laura Schmidt, who organized the Healthy Beverage Initiative that took the drinks off campus, was quoted in this New York Times article as saying, “I’ve spent years in the addiction fields, and the first thing we tell people is that if you want to quit something, get it out of your environment.”

The sugar and addiction work is part of UC’s Global Food Initiative, which is harnessing the institution’s resources to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population. #GlobalFood

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