Although some nutrition scientists had sounded warnings about sugar as early as 1972, its dangers were largely ignored by those who were recommending low-fat diets to prevent heart disease. In Australia, the 2015 release of a film called That Sugar Film marked a renewed call to declare sugar a health hazard.
In 1972, John Yudkin, Professor of the Department of Nutrition at Queen Elizabeth College, London. published a book called Pure, White and Deadly. His work linked the consumption of sugar not only to dental decay but to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Unsurprisingly, the sugar industry reacted with outrage. Fellow scientists also dismissed his findings, adhering to the prevailing wisdom that saturated fats and cholesterol were the principal evils in the Western diet.
Interest in Yudkin’s work was rekindled in 2009 when American endocrinologist, Robert Lustig, and his colleagues linked sugar consumption to a range of deleterious health outcomes. Lustig’s YouTube video Sugar: the Bitter Truth, explored the effects of sugar on the body’s chemistry and linked sugar intake to the explosion of obesity.
Sugary soft drinks are among the main sources of excess sugar intake and from around 2010 a number of countries have introduced “sugar taxes” on drinks and, in some cases, other high-sugar foods. Fruit juice has also been identified as high in sugar, with the recommended daily intake being reduced to no more than 125mls (half a cup) per day.
That Sugar Film has been shown in schools around Australia and has been followed by That Sugar Book and That Sugar Guide. There have been calls for a soft drink tax in Australia and for changes to product labelling to identify added sugars.
The movement to declare sugar a health hazard has seen it become the new villain on the dietary scene, replacing the emphasis on saturated fats. Soft drink consumption, and consumption of sugary foods as a whole, has declined in Australia. However, studies have found that this has not been accompanied by a decline in obesity. It seems pinpointing one culprit behind our expanding waistlines remains an oversimplification.