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UC researchers discuss sugar’s highs, lows

America’s growing sweet tooth is super-sizing waistlines and the nation’s health care price tag, warn University of California researchers.

People in the U.S. are eating 21 times more sweet stuff today than the pilgrims and pioneers did, according to data presented by scientists at a symposium on sugar and other sweeteners, sponsored by the Center for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treatment (COAST) at UCSF, the UC Office of the President, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

The result of Americans’ appetite for sugary foods is a spiraling number of people with “metabolic syndrome,” a litany of ailments that includes diabetes, fatty liver, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.

Some 50 million people in the U.S., including 35 percent of adults, now suffer from metabolic syndrome, according to the American Heart Association. And the annual medical costs for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes alone have soared to $400 billion.

The problem is now so weighty that one researcher urges the government to act aggressively to help alter diets.

“Everyone wants to make obesity about personal responsibility, something that’s your fault, but that’s a waste of time,” said Robert Lustig, a UCSF professor of pediatrics and a COAST researcher, at the March 17 symposium — the first by COAST and UCOP to focus on dietary sugar and metabolic outcomes — at UC Davis. “Enough people are sick that we need a societal and government intervention on the scale of that mounted against tobacco and alcohol.

“The government pays twice for obesity: first for the corn subsidy (to make high-fructose corn syrup), and then for emergency room heart attacks and health care,” said Lustig to the 150 conference attendees, including health care professionals, dietitians, graduate students, policymakers and even members of the sugar industry.

Go to the UC Newsroom to read Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto’s full report.


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