The World Health Organisation says a healthy adult should take in no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day, significantly less than what’s contained in a single can of soda. The average American, meanwhile, takes in 22 teaspoons a day — more than three times the recommended amount.
That overconsumption of sugar has been tied to a snowballing crisis of obesity and diabetes, but as John Oliver explains in his latest takedown on Last Week Tonight, it would be unwise to place all the blame on the shoulders of individuals. A significant portion of the food industry churns out a vast array of products packed with unseemly amounts of sugar while at the same time trying to keep those added sugars — and their long list of ill effects — hidden from consumers.
“Is it really fair to describe sugar as a treat considering how much of it we eat all year round?” Oliver asks, explaining that sugar is found not only where you would expect to find it — cookies, candy — but also lurking in “savory” processed foods like salad dressings, bread, and crackers. He claims that the $US5 billion dollar sugar industry has “fought for decades to project their products’ health benefits,” once even touting sugar as a diet aid:
And while that ridiculous ad may be old, Oliver quotes the current president of industry group The Sugar Association saying that science has shown that sugar “doesn’t contribute to obesity or diabetes.”
“Really?” Oliver says, feigning surprise. “I’m not saying it’s the only culprit, but it’s definitely one of the key suspects.”
He points to a review of the research from 2013 that found that while the vast majority of independent studies found a link between sugar intake and weight gain and/or obesity, the vast majority of industry-funded studies found the exact opposite.
The Food and Drug Administration has tried to shine a light in these muddied waters by proposing revisions to the ubiquitous nutrition labels that would prominently listed “added sugars,” but the agency has been “swarmed with letters from every conceivable product,” Oliver says — from yogurt and frozen-pizza-makers to groups representing the cranberry industry.
One point of contention? Consumer advocates want added sugars to be expressed using a measurement people can understand, like teaspoons, while industry groups have fought having “added sugars” listed at all, suggesting that — if it must be listed — it should be measured in grams.
Oliver’s proposal? The label should show how much sugar is in a given product by explaining the number of circus peanuts-worth of sugar it contains. “A can of Campbell’s tomato soup? Five and a half circus peanuts,” says Oliver.
Watch the whole segment below.
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