By JOHN BUTERBAUGH
Doge jokes aside, a scientific study suggested that lack of exercise, not sugar consumption, is the cause of obesity. However, Coca-Cola funded this research. We should not blindly trust profit-driven soft drink companies that have a lot to lose if consumers reduced their soda-drinking habits. Other scientific research argues that unsweetening our diet would reduce obesity rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests that unsweetening our diet reduces fat levels in the body.
|Fig. 1 – Fructose Consumption and Obesity Rates|
Some research argues that high-fructose corn syrup and soda may cause obesity, and rightfully so. Fructose (found in corn syrup) and sucrose (found in cane sugar) are only slightly chemically different. However, the body metabolizes them differently just because of this. The body prefers glucose, or simple sugar, as an energy source and burns it for that reason. Fructose is not as preferred as an energy source and is not burned like glucose is. With the replacement of high-fructose corn syrup for refined sugar in beverages in the 1970s, obesity rates rose. Consumption of fructose reduces the body’s ability to burn fat in the body, and drinking soda makes fructose entering your body much quicker and easier. Fat in the liver increases, which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. High triglycerides (which are a form of fat) increases in the blood, raising bad cholesterol levels. Belly fat increases even with regular exercise and even with the same caloric intake as without corn syrup or sugar. This indicates that people should consider the quality of the calories and not just the daily quantity of calories.
|Fig. 2 – Obesity by State|
Sugar consumption has contributed to the geographic patterns of obesity that we see in the U.S. today. Poorer states (like in the South and Midwest) are generally more obese and richer states (in the Northeast and West) are generally leaner (Compare Fig. 2 and Fig. 3.) Colorado is the fittest state and boasts high college-education rates. More education generally informs citizens what healthy lifestyles look like, and richer states generally have higher rates of education. Colorado also attracts athletic individuals because Colorado offers skiing and other outdoor opportunities. Connecticut is not far behind and it often ranks as the richest state, depending on how you measure income. Mississippi is both the fattest and the poorest state. Low-income Americans are much more able to afford cheap but flavorful dollar-menu items at McDonald’s. Additionally, these folks can afford to drink soda because the U.S. government heavily subsidizes corn, the syrup of which ends up in soda. 40 teaspoons of corn syrup in Mountain Dew never sounded so sweet… or disgusting.
|Fig. 3 – Median Household Income by State|
What can we do to discourage sugar consumption and encourage people to eat healthier? It’s recommended that Americans consume less than 9 teaspoons (or 39 grams) of sugar each day. It might just be easier to avoid sugar altogether instead of checking food labels and doing a bunch of math. Taxes on sweetened beverages have contributed to a reduction in soft drink consumption. However, we should also be encouraging people to choose foods with good fats or protein to reduce cravings. Also, avoid artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, etc.) because their sweetness alone can increase cravings for sugar. People should also eat foods such as raw fruits and vegetables that are heavy in nutrients and fiber, as fiber helps you feel full. Grocery stores are laid out in such a way that packaged and processed items (including sugar cereals, cookies, candy, and soda) lie in the middle of the store. Meanwhile, produce, meat, and dairy items line the perimeter. I’m not a nutritionist; so, I would suggest you consult one if you have dietary restrictions for health or other reasons (e.g., vegetarianism, Celiac’s disease, etc.) In general, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store if you don’t know any better.
Now, there is some validity in that lack of exercise can increase the risk of obesity. Sure. Everybody’s metabolism is a little bit different, and burning calories for some people is easier than for others. Still, when all else is equal, sugar consumption increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. You can still enjoy eating tasty foods, and you don’t have to do four hours of exercise every day. Just be responsible and keep yourself informed about the health effects of your food.