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The Danger Of Sugar

It is a well-known fact that obesity rates are on the rise in the UK and in Europe and it is putting immense strain on health care systems. It is a huge problem that countries just can no longer ignore. Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England states that “Obesity is the new smoking. It is a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs.” The European Union, as well as countries like; Norway, Serbia, and Turkey are seeing an acceleration in rates of obesity, with estimates of 52.7 % of the adult (aged 18 and over) EU’s population overweight in 2019.

Obesity is a very serious health condition and can be linked to various cancers, heart diseases, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart conditions. In the UK alone, in 2006/07, estimates suggest that the total cost to the NHS was 5.1 billion pounds and a further £352 million was the cost to the social care for obese patients. These exorbitant costs totally outstrip the costs for smoking illnesses (3.3 billion), and alcohol-related illnesses (3.3 billion).

Walvin, J. (n.d.). Sugar: The world corrupted, from slavery to obesity [Illustrating]. Sugar: The World Corrupted, from Slavery to Obesity.

So what is causing these astonishingly high rates of obesity in recent times? Like all things health-wise, it is an extremely complex and convoluted situation. There are several factors that play a role in these rising rates, and as ever, there are no easy solutions. Environmental factors, socio-economical factors, ethnicity all have a part to play in the causes. However, one area that, perhaps until recent times, has been massively overlooked (certainly in the mainstream media) is how much sugar countries consume. Poor Lifestyle factors like lack of exercise and consuming sugary foods drastically increase the likelihood of becoming overweight. And with that, all the illnesses are outlined at the top of the article. Cardiovascular research scientist James J DiNicolantonio and cardiologist James H O’Keefe, both from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas, together with William Wilson – a physician with the nonprofit US group practice Lahey Health, co-authored an article published in British Journal of Sports Medicine. In it, the scientist and medical professionals ostensibly argue that sugar should be considered equivalent to drugs such as cocaine and opium. “Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar”.

The medical trio goes on to cite studies using rodents demonstrating sugar withdrawal effects and preferring sugar over cocaine. It has to be said, however, that these claims have been hotly contested and even dismissed by many in the science field as absurd. Either way, what is known is that sugar is highly addictive and the primary cause of obesity. Of course, once a person is addicted to something like sugar, drugs, or alcohol, cognitive dissonance and denial can kick in making it incredibly difficult to break bad eating habits. Margaret Hough states that “Denial, by its very nature, prevents people from looking at things which, if acknowledged, might very well lead to greater development and growth.”

Campaigners present UK government with plans tackling obesity amid coronavirus pandemic. (2020, June 2). [Photograph]. Campaigners Present UK Government with Plans Tackling Obesity amid Coronavirus Pandemic.

According to The World Health Organisation, it is estimated that around 60 million people have diabetes in the European region (2010). Diabetes is on the rise among all ages in the European region and it is mainly down to increases in overweight and obesity. Poor diet - the consumption of high levels of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, and a sedentary lifestyle. Worldwide, high blood glucose kills about 3.4 million people annually. Almost 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and almost half are people aged under 70 years. WHO projects diabetes deaths will double between 2005 and 2030.

The NHS recommends that adults should have no more than 30 grams of free sugars a day, which is equivalent to 7 sugar cubes. Children between the ages of 7-10 should have no more than 24 grams (6 sugar cubes) per day. Free sugars can be found in sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, and fizzy drinks. And here is where a big part of the problem lies. A single can of cola can have up to 9 cubes of sugar. In just one sitting a child can have well over their daily allowance. A startling report published in 2020 by, the Fresh Smile Clinic, states that a child could be consuming three times the daily sugar limit in just one milkshake. When making comparisons of well-known fast-food outlets and the amounts of sugar found in the milkshake products, the findings make for unsettling reading:

  • Burger King ‘Regular Strawberry Milkshake’ - 92 grams of sugar

  • McDonald’s ‘Large Vanilla Milkshake’ - 77 grams of sugar

  • Burger King ‘Oreo Shake (soft serve)’ - 71 grams of sugar

Ideally, a need for huge shifts in how the big food companies market and produce products. It would be of great help if governments could incentivize these companies to make these changes happen sooner rather than later. There has to be a more ethical approach to how the big players view what is being offered to the public. There are changes being implemented but unfortunately, it is not being made quickly enough. Many food outlets offer healthy vegetarian/vegan options. It is a start. However, there is little value in being able to have a very healthy lunch, while gulping down a sugary soda. In January 2014, the Uk introduced a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) in a bid to tackle the obesity crisis. The fear is that this is just another tax on the poor and will not get to the root of the problem, so the poor just get poorer. Some companies are making reductions in the more sugary products. Coca-Cola and Britvic have reduced the overall sugars in the drinks sold by 17% and 26% respectively. Time will tell if these changes will have a profound effect or not.


  • Hough, M. (1994). A Practical Approach to Counselling. Longman Group.


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Peter Terrence

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