Firstly, I need to stress that the paper referred to in the article appears as a ‘comment’ in Nature. Commentary is based on opinion, and unfortunately opinions are based on what a person thinks is happening but not necessarily what is actually happening and are often biased. When scientists compare commentaries to research (which looks at evidence), commentaries are much less superior. Therefore, a commentary that calls for such drastic action, such as introducing a policy, without looking at all the evidence, is unjustified.
The authors of the commentary suggest that sugar intake has tripled worldwide over the past 50 years and they quote sugar supply data to support this assertion. However, food supply data is known to overstate intakes since it includes not only non-edible food portions and food lost to human use through waste and spoilage, but also unknown quantities of foods that are used as ingredients in processed foods that are exported. Intakes estimated from research data from the UK, the US and Canada have all shown minimal changes in average sugar intake as a proportion of food energy intake over several decades.
The following statements made by the authors are refuted by scientific evidence:
- “Sugar consumption is linked to a rise in non-communicable disease.” Over many years, a number of expert committees have examined the scientific evidence relating to the consumption of sugar and other carbohydrates. These committees have included The European Food Safety Authority (2010), World Health Organisation and Food & Agriculture Organisation (2003), Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2002), Food & Agriculture Organisation (1998) and the UK Department of Health (1989). All have concluded that the balance of available evidence does not implicate sugar at the level currently consumed in any of the ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, or cancer at any site.
- “Sugar’s effects on the body can be similar to those of alcohol.” In 2010 a comprehensive review by Prof David Benton of Swansea University concluded that there was no support from human scientific studies that sucrose could be addictive. In addition, a World Health Organisation Report (2004) concluded that any similarities between the brain signals generated by pleasurable foods and those much stronger signals from drug or alcohol abuse, do not indicate anything sinister about food.
- “Regulation could include tax, limiting sales during school hours and placing age limits on purchase.”
There is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of taxation on public health outcomes. A newly published review in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society concluded that the effects of fiscal interventions such as tax are small. The authors commented that “…a fiscally based intervention to address poor diets will contribute to a worsening of economic inequality and does little to address health inequality”. Scientific evidence suggests that to tax all foods containing sugar is unreasonable.
To tax food because it has a small amount of sugar might negatively affect the nutritional state of people and they will not be able to afford these foods. It would be appreciated if the scientific side of the story is also published.