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Why We Need To Rethink Sugar: From Our Intake To How We Market It To Children

Halloween is a wonderful holiday. I never really got into the whole costume thing, but I respect and enjoy the passion other people have for expressing their creative flair. As a kid, to me the single best thing about Halloween was the candy. I don’t quite get why candy and costumes are so strongly associated with the day, but whatever.

Sales on candy both before and after Halloween, plus the incredible haul that an enterprising young lad like myself could pull in on a walk around the neighborhood, gives children and adolescents access to a huge amount of candy. The dentists association is probably pulling strings at the local Chamber of Commerce to organize some Halloween event so kids feed on candy and get themselves some cavities.

While I certainly don’t want to pick on kids enjoying a cultural holiday intended for them, as this fat shaming woman condescendingly accomplishes, I do think there is some important discourse to be had on the impact of diet.

And I don’t mean fad diets like Atkins, thinly veiled anorexic “juice purges,” or even lifestyle choices such as veganism. I am simply talking about the general awareness of food consumption choices and the effect it can have on your mood, body, and brain.

We know that corporate interests don’t entail worrying if their products are unhealthy, and they will charge heavily for healthy options, as long as we keep buying and feeding into their profit lines. “Super Size Me” helped generate a public outcry that forced companies to respond and provide healthier options.

Earlier this month, Elite Daily reported an academic study conducted at Connecticut College that examined how Oreos engage with the brain, noting clear and significant similarities between the neurological pathways Oreos and cocaine activate.

"The distinction between what is considered a food (something that your body wants or needs in order to function optimally) or a drug (something that your brain wants or needs in order to function optimally) is becoming increasingly difficult to define. Indeed, the routine use of some substances, such as stimulants and depressants, is so universal that most of us do not even consider them to be drugs, but, rather, actual food. Is coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, cocoa, or marijuana a nutrient or a drug?” Gary Wenk, Professor of Psychology, Ohio State University

Wenk further suggests that anything consumed should be considered a drug, regardless of having obvious nutritional value or not. The director of Amsterdam’s government health division, Paul van der Velpen, released a statement in mid-September (*link in Dutch, Google Chrome auto-translates*) partially attributing an “obesity epidemic” in Holland to the food industry abusing the addictive attributes of foods with high sugar content. Holland has a 10% obesity rate, compared to U.S. rates of 18% in children and adolescents and 33% of adults (2010 data).

Mr. van der Velpen compares sugar to alcohol and tobacco, and proposes regulation on sugar content similar to legislation on salt, and closes his proposal with this statement: “This may seem exaggerated and far-fetched, but sugar is the most dangerous drug of this time and is still everywhere and easy to obtain.”

Before you react with incredulity and skepticism, consider that our current understanding of drug addiction is archaic and flawed; new research by Columbia professor Carl Hart is deconstructing formerly ironclad notions of drug addiction overpowering rational behavior.

Earlier studies conducted on addiction used isolated rats, but running the same experiments with rats who are involved in a community produces dramatically different results, which suggest even drugs like heroin are less dominating of an influence than previously considered. Maybe der Velpen’s doomsday prognostication should be taken more seriously.

I’m not trying to scare everyone off of Halloween candy. I am, after all, going to buy a bunch of discounted themed candy tomorrow and next week and snack on it for the next month. But I do want to increase consciousness of a sneaky big American issue at a time when we are celebrating a holiday that revolves around costumed revelry and decadent consumption of sweet treats.

The fact is, over $147 billion was spent on medical costs because of obesity in 2008. Obesity is correlated with lower income brackets, and obese people, on average, pay $1,400 more than people of “normal” weight. This puts an increased burden on social medical policies, increases taxes, and necessitating reforms like Obamacare, moving it beyond a personal issue affecting an individual’s quality of life to an issue that may need to be examined from a regulatory perspective.

Top Photo Courtesy: We Heart It