By Garrick Hoffman
Liberal Arts Major
“Sugar. It’s in everything!” These are the laconic words in the description of an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, posted on YouTube.
According to nutritionist Rovenia Brock, about 35% of sugars that Americans consume are in beverages. But look at all the food products in your house, or on the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores. Alarmingly, sugar is, more often than not, among the first few ingredients. Peanut butter. Breads. Sports drinks. Protein supplements. Even juices – the very same ones you might be feeding your child. And if it’s not strictly labeled as sugar, it’s labeled as high fructose corn syrup or sucrose.
Although the Last Week Tonight episode begins humorously, it leads to a clip from a news broadcast, with the anchor touching on an insidious fact: “Today the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, three times what we need. That’s equal to 75 pounds of sugar a year for every man, woman, and child in the United States.”
Later in the episode, neuroscientist Eric Stice says in an interview, “Sugar activates the brain in a special way that’s very reminiscent to drugs like cocaine.”
It has become increasingly well-known that sugar is a huge catalyst in the obesity epidemic of our country. Very often, people mistake calories and fat for the sole culprits in weight gain; this, however, is a misconception, although both components indubitably play a role in weight gain. But sugar is the truly lethal component, which is why former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed to limit the sales of soft drinks over 16 ounces, understanding how much soda beverages contribute to obesity rates. Sunkist, for example, is the worst soda in the country, containing over 70 grams of sugar per 20 fluid ounces.
What makes excessive sugar consumption so perilous to our body? It’s a major contributor to type 2 diabetes and, as mentioned, obesity. Type 2 is, according to the fifth edition of Biology of Humans, “characterized by an abnormally high level of glucose in the blood. The high blood glucose levels are caused by problems with either insulin production or insulin function.” When insulin resistance develops, “the body’s cells fail to adequately respond to insulin.” Ultimately this leads to an augmented deposition of fat in fat cells, and if you’re eating too many malnutritious foods, your body can become confused and store this fat that it may not need. If excess fat is not getting burned off via exercise, you’re on your way to poor health and a position among the already jarring statistics
States in the south have some of the worst obesity rates in the country. Mississippi and West Virginia, for example, exceed 35 percent in obesity rates among the adult population, according to a Washington Post article. That’s more than 1 in 3 people statewide. In a Gallup poll, data shows that the Huntington-Ashland community in West Virginia-Kentucky-Ohio stands at an obesity rate of 39.5 percent. Boulder, Colorado has the lowest rate, at 12.4 percent – about a third of the Huntington-Ashland community.
It is of chief importance to examine our diets and exercise proclivities, especially when $190 billion goes to obesity-related medical costs annually in America, and when 90-95 percent of diagnosed cases of diabetes in America are type 2 – the type that is almost invariably self-inflicted from a lack of exercise and poor nutritional habits. In 1958, about 1 in 100 people had diabetes; today, 1 in 14 people have diabetes, according to the Portland Press Herald.
If those facts and figures don’t sound the sirens, what will?