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Sugar as harmful as tobacco? Researchers urge regulation

Other experts call regulation a 'slippery slope'

February 02, 2012

Added sugar in processed foods and drinks is a big public health threat and should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco, according to University of California-San Francisco researchers.

In a commentary in Nature, the researchers called excessive amounts of sugar "toxic," noting that overconsumption of fructose can harm the liver and lead to multiple chronic diseases, including diabetes and hypertension.

The authors suggest instituting a tax on sugary products or an age limit for purchasing sugary drinks. In addition, they suggest tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars, as well as enforcing zoning ordinances for fast food restaurants and convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods.

However, other health experts caution that imposing such regulations could be a "slippery slope," MedPage Today reports. "If we regulate sugar, what about trans fat? What about sodium? What about calories?" says David Katz, director of Yale's Prevention Research Center. "There is also the fact that sugar is present in fruit, in fruit juice, and processed foods sweetened with concentrated fruit juices. Where, exactly, does the regulation start and end?" (Kaplan, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 2/1; Fiore, MedPage Today, 2/1).

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