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Don’t Make Consumers Sugar’s Victims

The idea of regulating sugar was proposed recently by several researchers from the University of California who cited studies suggesting that sugar was “associated with” (not the same as “has caused”) a rise in conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

As a practitioner, I share their frustration about the obesity epidemic, but regulating sugar puts us on a very slippery slope.

What if we used health to justify government control over other aspects of diet and lifestyle:

  • Banning restaurants from serving more than two drinks to a man or one drink to a woman? More than that is considered excessive by the government. Forget splitting a bottle of wine at dinner.
  • Limiting foods sold in bakeries or on restaurant menus if they’re high in fat, salt or sugar?
  • Regulating the type and number of new products coming onto the market, because of their nutritional content.
  • Banning TV cooking shows that show dishes with too much fat, salt, or sugar.

Sugar isn’t new. It’s been around forever and the USDA says that we actually ate less of it in 2010 than we did in 2009. Schools do regulate it and that’s fine. And don’t forget the other lifestyle changes that used to keep sugar intake in check, like how our activity levels have declined over the years. Foods with sugar don’t make us sick. The decisions we make about those foods and our lifestyles do.

Regulating sugar just reinforces that consumers are “victims,” and I can’t go there. Being a victim means you’re not responsible for your situation and some other person or entity should fix the problem.

That’s blame, and blame causes stagnation, not action. People don’t come to me to be told they’re victims–they come to me for solutions.

Waiting for legislation that forces dietary changes is a luxury I don’t have. It’s my job to empower my patients and help them take matters into their own hands. Part of any empowerment process means owning up to what’s really happening and accepting some responsibility for what we do. That’s not a burden, it’s liberating. It puts consumers are back in control, without waiting for legislation.

One piece of legislation I would like to see? Require food labels to list the grams of added sugars. That would be a great tool for informing and empowering consumers’ decisions.

This post was adapted from material Dr. Ayoob originally wrote for Debate Club at usnews.com.

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