As the debate rages on in the US about what is most to blame for the nation's obesity problem, a new film is claiming the real danger behind the epidemic is sugar.
Fed Up, a film released in the US this week, predicts 95 per cent of Americans will be overweight or obese in the next two decades, unless something is done to tackle the so-called hidden sugars which appear in everyday foods.
Producer Laurie Davies - who was also behind the 2006 film Inconvenient Truth which studied the myths surrounding global warming - warns in the film that one third of adults will also have diabetes by 2050, as our brains become increasingly dependent on sugar.
In the film, one of the interviewees Dr Mark Hyman, chairman for the Institute for Functional Medicine, says sugar is a 'fundamental problem' which noone is talking about.
He said: 'The message has been pushed onto us: it is your fault you're fat. Forget about it.'
Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, goes one step father, predicting that the obesity crisis fuelled by sugar will end up as 'one of
the greatest public health epidemics of our time'.
'We are toast as a country', he tells the film.
The expert comments come after researchers behind the film found that, of the 600,000 food items in the US, a staggering 80 per cent have added sugar.
The film claims fast-food chains and the makers of processed foods add more sugar to 'low fat' foods to make them more palatable.>But the truth about how damaging this can be for a person's health has remained hidden behind supposedly-healthy food labels - because manufacturers need to rely on sugar to make their food, the film claims.
According to Gary Taubes, an author interviewed for the film, blaming willpower for obesity - as has been the way for several years - is a 'crime'.
Instead, the film claims that obesity could be started by the human brain's reaction to sugar.
The human brain 'lights up to sugar just as it does with cocaine and heroin', according to one expert.
It means people who are unwittingly eating sugar will become addicted to the ingredient.
Michael Pollen, writer of the book The Omnivore's Dilemma, also tells the film that, by not implementing laws to stop so much sugar being used, the government is 'subsiding the obesity epidemic'.
According to the film, the problem means early-onset diabetes - a condition associated with exposure to cane sugar and corn syrup - will be a medical condition in one in three Americans by 2050, if current rates continue.
In two decades, 95 per cent of Americans will also be overweight or obese, according to the film.The idea that sugar, rather than fat, causes both obesity and diabetes has been gaining support among diet and health experts for the past few years.
In January, an alliance of doctors and academics described sugar as 'the new tobacco', blaming it for a range of health problems and early death.
Fructose is found in fruit, sucrose (table sugar) and in high fructose corn syrup. It is a simple sugar and is sweeter than glucose.
Sucrose (the sugar that we commonly add to food) is made up of 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose.
High fructose corn syrup (containing more fructose than glucose) commonly replaces sucrose in the US food industry because it is both sweeter and cheaper. In the UK, it can also be labelled as ‘glucose-fructose syrup’ or ‘HFCS’.
Because it causes a lower blood sugar spike than sucrose or glucose, and therefore has a low glycaemic index, manufacturers are allowed to claim that fructose is ‘healthier’ than the other two.
But some scientists claim the problem with fructose is twofold.
Firstly, there is no hormone to remove fructose from our bloodstream (unlike glucose, which stimulates insulin production).
It is therefore left to the liver to remove it.
When the liver is overwhelmed it converts fructose to liver fat, which ups our chances of developing insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), hardened arteries and heart disease.
Secondly, fructose suppresses the hormone leptin, which tells you when you’re full. In other words, your brain lets you consume it without limit.
A US study last year carried out by the University of California found that for every 150 calories of extra sugar people had each day, the prevalence of diabetes in the country rose by 1 per cent in the population.
Mark Bittman, a columnist for the New York Times, supports this point, telling the film how junk food companies are acting like 'tobacco companies were 30 years ago'.
The claims about sugar come after some scientists say illnesses that typically show up in the obese are also apparent in those who have average weight.
Scientists claim this must be due to exposure to sugar.
But efforts to curb the sugar industry have largely failed.
In the US, the Bush administration threatened to withhold funding to the World Health Organisation in 2003, if it published nutritional guidelines which suggested no more than 10 per cent of calories per day should come from sugar.
Campaigners are now calling for health warnings on some foods, as well as equal advertising time to marketing fresh fruit and vegetables.
They also want voluntary agreements to reduce sugar content.
The problem is particularly apparent in low-fat versions of foods such as yoghurts, fizzy drinks and spreads, in which natural sugars are swapped for sugar substitutes.
But many other leading scientists say there is not yet enough evidence to prove sugar has the harmful effect some campaigners are claiming.
Sugar Nutrition UK said the World Health Organisation published a review last year that found that any link between diabetes and body weight was due to over-consumption of calories and was not specific to sugar.
Barbara Gallani, of the Food and Drink Federation, an industry group, also denied sugar was responsible for obesity.
She said the industry already provided clear information on sugar levels to consumers, using figures and colour-coded labels.
In Briton, the typical person consumes 12 teaspoons of sugar a day and some adults consume as many as 46.
The film, produced by Laurie David, former wife of Seinfeld creator Larry David, is narrated by TV journalist Katie Couric. It was released this week in America.
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