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Regulate sugar like booze and cigarettes? Maybe

In a paper published in the journal "Nature," researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, argue that sugar can lead to chronic diseases. NBC's Nancy Snyderman reports.

Sugar is often viewed as nothing more than empty calories, but researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have a far more toxic view of the sweet stuff.

Sugar is poison, like alcohol and tobacco, and should be put in the same category as those drugs -- not necessary, easy to abuse and deadly or disabling for far too many people.

At least that’s the view of Dr. Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis, UCSF colleagues who are calling for stronger societal controls on sugar.

In the latest issue of the journal Nature, they argue that the government should start nudging you off your sugar high. 

They say let’s get taxes in place on foods high in sugar.  Let’s restrict places where you can buy sugar-laden food like non-diet sodas, candy and snack foods. Let’s restrict advertising to kids that encourages them to eat foods and drinks high in sugar content.  Let’s even yank sugary foods off the list of products that can be bought with food stamps or served in school lunch programs.

Are they on the right track?  Partly.

These proposals treat each of us as rational agents who can make better choices about what we eat.  If sugary food costs more and is harder to find, we will choose to eat less of it.

Let the public know that sugar is ubiquitous, present in many foods you’d never imagine, and most people will change their ways.

Sure, that’s partly true.  But their strategy ignores the fact that a lot of what we eat is the result of our upbringing, culture, food availability, stress levels and where we live.

Food choices are a lot more than calculating calories, watching prices and keeping an eye on sugar content. We eat for pleasure, to relieve stress, to fit in with our neighbors, to feel the comfort of the familiar, to show love for others and for a bunch of other non-rational reasons that those who sell us food know all too well.

Just think about the images in the soda ads on TV and you will see what I mean. The commercials are heavy on attractive young people, cuddly animals and nostalgia and short on nutrition information and chemical composition.

The battle of the bulge will not be won just by taking steps that make it a bit harder to buy what is bad for us. It will require rethinking everything from our eating habits and how we teach kids about food to the way food is glamorized in the media.

Most important, it requires changing the way in which we subsidize agribusiness to grow the corn that becomes the corn syrup that winds up as sugar in two-thirds of the food in your refrigerator – food that ultimately cause too many of us to go blind, need knee replacements or require kidney transplants.

Victory over sugar would be sweet, but it will not be easy.

Should sugar be controlled like a drug? Tell us what you think on Facebook.

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