There is nothing more crippling than addiction, and it is because of this truth that the debate over addictive substances has existed in America for decades.
However, as politicians, scientists, and everyday citizens have struggled over the issues of prohibition, marijuana legalization and so on, they have failed to address the greatest threat of this sort. The most lucrative, accessible, and affordable addictive substance in the United States today is sold in every grocery store and consumed by every American daily; sugar is the insidious criminal that plagues the modern consumer.
As early as the 16th century, it has been presumed that sugar is unhealthy for animals and humans alike when consumed in mass amounts. In 1816, the French physiologist F. Magendie proved this suspicion by publishing a study which concluded that as an consistent diet – even for a short period of time – sugar is worse than nothing.₁ Ever since, there has been a plethora of medical examinations and experiments that support and further Magendie’s criticism of sugar, yet the global consumption has skyrocketed. This widespread sugar rush has led to a dramatic increase in obesity and weight-related disease all across the world, but especially in America. In fact the CDC itself claims that one in every three American adults is clinically obese – a condition that relates to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.₂
Many are quick to do what could be dubbed “sloth-shaming”: citing the common misconception that the obese have become unhealthy due to a lack of proactivity. However, when considering sugar in particular, this idea proves to be backwards entirely. When blood sugar is raised, the human body produces greater amounts of insulin to correct the imbalance of sugar, causing immediate fat storage. These raised insulin levels cause the body to then crave a “sugar high,” inducing feelings of hunger and exhaustion – the same sensations that are so commonly attributed to the overweight.₃ These cravings often leave individuals wanting to eat more, fueling the cycle and adding to fat deposits.
In addition to this chemical addiction, recent studies have shown that sugar holds major psychological implications as well. By stimulating the brain to give out excessive reward signals, sugar is actually capable of rendering areas of the brain that develop self-control temporarily useless and countermanding one’s common sense.₄ One of the most sensationalized medical discoveries in the food industry is the fact that sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine.₅ This conclusion, based on a study performed on laboratory rats, was published in newspapers across the country and on countless websites and news forums, but failed to cause any sort of public arousal. Why would people not care about the reality of being drugged by their own food? Well firstly, they are like all addicts in their pursuit of blissful ignorance. For another, the government, the food industry–those who design school lunches, who set the regulations for labeling (who choose of all things not to require the percent daily value of sugar on processed goods), who influence global food standards, who write menus…–they all do not care. And so money has once again been prioritized over American lives.
If you want to learn more about sugar, obesity, and the American food system in general, I highly recommend watching the documentary “Fed Up” by Katie Couric – it is life changing.
Edited by: Jonathan Deng
₁ Dufty, William. “Refined Sugar – the Sweetest Poison of All.” Global Healing Center. 1975. Web. 3 Jun 2015.
₂ “Overweight and Obesity.” Division of Nutrition. CDC. 4 Sep 2014. Web. 3 Jun 2015.
₃ McMahon, Alex. “WHy is Sugar Addictive?” Evolve Nutritional Therapy. 5 Apr 2015. Web. 3 Jun 2015.
₄ “Is Sugar More Addictive Than Cocaine?” Mercola. 23 Aug 2007. Web 3 Jun 2015.
₅ Fed Up. Dir. Stephanie Soechtig. 9 May 2014.