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Controversy over the Role of Sugar in Obesity and Health


Jan 6, 2017

Recent epidemiologic reviews of nutrition and health outcomes have shifted the focus from fats to sugar as a factor in causing obesity and cardiovascular disease.  The egg industry suffered for at least two decades from consumer rejection of shell eggs and egg products based on the presumption that cholesterol and unsaturated fats were responsible for adverse health issues. 

It now emerges that much of the research demonstrating a deleterious effect from consumption of fats was funded by associations and companies with a vested interest in promoting sugar.

For many years opponents of sugar were denigrated in the literature by reputable scientists with financial ties to trade associations representing the interests of the packaged food and sugar industries.

Fortunately “the cholesterol myth” has been effectively debunked, mainly due to the efforts of scientists funded by the American Egg Board.  The present controversy which focuses on Type II diabetes has serious implications for regulators who guide recommendations on nutrition and on legislators intent on placing punitive taxes on beverages with a high sugar content. 

A recent review published in The Annals of Internal Medicine questioning recent epidemiologic studies on the role of sugar in metabolic disease has been widely criticized by independent scientists.  The review was sponsored by the International Life Sciences Institute which is supported by multinational companies including Coca Cola, General Mills, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s and Monsanto.  The article questioned World Health Organization and USDA guidelines counseling restriction of sugar intake in beverages and candy.

There is a profound lack of impartiality among scientists both for and against restriction of sugar intake since both sides appear to have vested interests. Some specialists with involvement in establishing guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and the American Health Association point to epidemiologic associations among obesity, the incidence rate of Type II diabetes and intake of sugar. Some specialists also maintain that total caloric intake from both sugar and starch (and expenditure through exercise) should be taken into consideration in developing nutritional guidelines.

At the end of the day it appears that emphasis on fat intake has abated and that prevailing scientific opinion endorses consumption of an egg each day by consumers with no predisposition to rare familial hypercholesterolemia.