The US Government needs to declare war on today’s new drug, sugar. The use of sugar as a food substance has been shown to exist even before crops were deliberately planted for harvesting. Ancient hunter-gatherers would take note of certain plants that, when chewed, provided a very sweet taste, and would mark these plants out then pass on the knowledge to their families and groups. Ancient records exist where sugar was described as honey without bees, and its cultivation and processing kept a highly guarded secret in order to protect its value. (1) By the late 15th Century AD, the amounts of sugar that could be produced became much larger as a result of both the cultivation of cane plants in the New World, as this climate proved to be very beneficial to the rapid growth of the crop, and the increasing demand, and therefore the investments made into supplying sugar to new fans in European countries. It is important to note that at this stage, the consumption of sugar was still pretty low, both due to the fact that it wasn’t well known and its high price ” reports have suggested that a kilo of sugar in those days cost the equivalent of $100 in current times. (1)
In recent times, the global demand for sugar as a food product has reached its highest levels ever recorded with close to 176 metric tons of sugar with per capita consumption in the United States alone exceeding 126 grams (5). As with all things when taken in excess, an increasing number of studies have begun to show that our consumption of sugar could now be linked to a number of medical conditions including cardiovascular diseases, endocrine dysfunctions, obesity, and even mood disorders. In addition to this, there has been shown to be an increasing number of deaths associated with sugar consumption, with close to 185,000 deaths every year attributed to the consumption of sugary foods and the resultant cardiovascular, endocrine and metabolic dysfunctions (5) In order to further prove that the danger that too much sugar intake represents to the health and well being of the population, it has been reported that the number of obese children has reached all-time highs, with more than 41 million children under the age of five suffering from this condition in 2010, with 92 million more children said to be at risk of being obese at some point in their future. (5)
In recognition of the serious medical issues that these children are going to have in the future and the various costs associated with the treatment of what, all things considered, should be a preventable illness, it is my humble opinion that the government begins to put measures in place to greatly restrict the intake of sugar by its citizens.
The case for the governmental regulation of sugar intake has some precedent in the control of substances that have been proven to have harmful effects on human health and well being. In this essay, I will be proposing an argument discussing the various harmful effects that sugar intake has on people who, unknowingly and without proper warning as to its negative effects, make it a major part of the foods they consume. I will also shed some light on the possible effects of the regulations of sugar intake, citing examples of other regulated substances and the effect such regulations have had on the intake of such substances.
The differences between the effects of governmental regulation of substances thought to be harmful to human life, as opposed just strongly warning about the harmful effects associated with its use, can most clearly be shown by the differences in consumption between tobacco, and more strictly controlled substances like ethyl acrylate.
Until recently, the regulation of tobacco and tobacco products was not strictly enforced by the United States of America’s health and safety laws as enforced by the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, this resulted in an increasing number of complications associated with the use of tobacco despite countless adverts and health information articles warning people about the harmful effects that tobacco has on health and well being. In contrast to this, ethyl acrylate was first discovered and used, among other things, as a food additive, and when it was discovered that it caused colorectal and squamous cell carcinoma, it was immediately placed on the banned substances list by the FDA, effectively removing it as a threat to the health and well being of all Americans.
The persistent increase in the use of tobacco, despite all warnings to the contrary, could, therefore, be taken as a pointer to how mass education of the harmful effects of excessive sugar intake would be received without proper laws and regulations to enforce reduced sugar intake.
On another note, some studies have suggested a relationship between the intake of sugar and the stimulation of pleasure centers in the brain. This relationship paints a troubling relationship between sugar and its enthusiasts, leading some researchers to conclude that excessive intake of sugar may have more similarities to other addictions rather than being just a pleasurable but harmful habit (2) This, of course, arises without the consideration of the social and cultural roles that the use of sugar plays in our community; sugar and sugar products are traditionally given out as rewards for good behavior during festivities such as birthdays, Halloween and Christmas, establishing a link between our need for sugar in our meals and our thirst for personal validation and the use of sugar-containing products as a means to feel good about ourselves. With the above in mind, it is easy to see why dependence on sugar may require more stringent measures than simply educating and advising people to cut down their sugar intake without providing incentives, both positive and negative, to make people take their health into their own hands and make positive lifestyle choices (3). In recognition of the menace that sugar presents to its population, the United Kingdom has gone as far as placing a tax on sugar in order to limit its consumption. If that does not bring to bear the gravity of this issue, then nothing will.
As a counter to the points made above, people may want to insist on an individual’s fundamental right to autonomy, to declare than restricting an individual’s choice of food and stopping him from taking in certain foods may constitute a breach of his or her rights, and to these people I say this; we have been doing exactly that since the beginning of civilization. Humans have long since recognized the need for the banning of certain substances deemed too harmful for use of the general public and this tendency, rather than halting our progress as a civilization has led to its growth and development. To use a more modern day example, the use of alcohol in pregnant women has long been considered teratogenic with resulting harmful effects on the fetus ranging from cardiovascular disorders to an increase in the future susceptibility to diseases and even death. The use of cocaine as a recreational drug attracts heavy penalties ranging from one to two year jail times to decades in prison depending on the quantity of the material found in possession and intent to distribute. The difference in the incidence between fetal abnormalities resulting from maternal use of cocaine and maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy further serves to drive home the need for the requirement of governmental regulation of sugar. Far more deaths result from alcohol use than cocaine, showing that governmental regulation plays a vital role in the reduction of the harmful effects of substances on the health of individuals.
Similarly, it may be implied that it is not the Government’s responsibility to police what the populace consumes. I’d like to politely disagree; it is the place of the Government to protect the populace from harm, whether or not they may be aware of it. Governments were made to protect society as a whole from harm, and regulation of a substance that has been shown to be poisonous is just a logical extension of that role. In addition to this, if, as previously stated above, the use of sugar tends towards dependence, shouldn’t this buttress the fact that the general public cannot be trusted to act according to their best interests in this matter?
The facts speak for themselves; excessive use of sugar has been verifiably proven to lead to long-term health disorders and death, the only reasons why it has not been placed on a list of banned substances are either its immense popularity, the amount of money the sugar industry makes, or the fear of backlash when the general public realizes that its favorite drug has just been made illegal to obtain and consume. In response to this, I’d like to ask, do we really want to purposefully poison our families because we lack the discipline to speak hard truths and make tough decisions, do we really want to place the profits of some sections of the farming industry over the growth and well-being of future generations? The answer should be evident; in our ignorance, we had called sugar the honey without bees and fed it to our children and loved ones, but time and countless studies have served to show us that even this honey may come with stingers.
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