By: Brenda Neugent
Obesity levels have reached their historically highest point–surpassing hunger as a global problem–and type 2 diabetes cases could triple by 2050, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
That prediction of a threefold increase–and diabetes levels right now account for more than 10 percent of all healthcare spending–is making doctors take another look at the reason behind the rise in diabetes and obesity–and sugar seems to be the likely culprit.
Not only detrimental to global health, sugar is ultimately having a big impact on the economic welfare of the world, as well.
According to a Swiss study surveying doctors worldwide, almost 90 percent believe obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and related nutritional issues–and the rising health care costs that accompany such health concerns–are tied to sugar consumption.
“Although causality is difficult to prove in this area, with such a high percentage of doctors in our proprietary survey confident of this strong link, we cannot ignore the significance and the implications for society and our economy,” says Stefano Natella, co-head of the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Securities Research & Analytics department and an author of the study, “Sugar: Consumption at a Crossroads.”
The report, in part aimed at prepping businesses for future consumer trends away from sugar consumption, surveyed general practitioners, consumers, and industry experts in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
The survey found that globally, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Mexico consume the most sugar–almost twice the world average of 17 teaspoons a day–and significantly more than the American Heart Association recommendation of six added teaspoons of sugar a day for women and nine for men.
“Although consumption varies considerably from country to country, current intake of added sugars is well above these recommended levels in several developed and developing countries,” Natella said.
Those added sugars, almost half from sweetened beverages, now make up about 17 percent of a normal U.S. diet, and play a big part in our dubious distinction as the country with the highest rate of obesity.
A majority of doctors surveyed said that sugar is addictive, putting it in a category similar to alcohol and tobacco, and experts suggested taxing sugary snacks and drinks in the same way as cigarettes or booze as a way to help pay for escalating health care costs.
But even as the numbers seem completely dire, the sugar study found that consumers are slowly waking up from their sugar comas and are beginning to look at healthier choices to meet their sweet needs.
“Within certain segments of the population, we are already seeing a reduction in consumption,” Natella said.
In response to consumer demand, companies are beginning to self-regulate as well, and are looking toward other sweetening options in advance of both regulations and public shifts away from sugar consumption.
The process, though, will be slow, experts say, especially given that doctors worldwide are not always on the same page when it comes to the dangers of too much sugar.
“We expect growth in sugar consumption, which has paralleled that of the growth in the world population at around two percent a year, to come under pressure,” Natella said, “even though it may take a few years.”