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How Many Thousands of Americans Will the Sugar Lobby’s Latest Victory Kill?

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Here is the news from Andrea Petersen’s December 29, 2020 Wall Street Journal article “New U.S. Dietary Guidelines Reject Recommendation to Cut Sugar, Alcohol Intake Limit”: The federal government on Tuesday issued new dietary guidelines that keep current allowances for sugar and alcohol consumption unchanged, rejecting recommendations by its scientific advisory committee to make significant cuts.The scientific committee, which was composed of 20 academics and doctors, had recommended cutting the limit for added sugars in the diet to 6% of daily calories from 10% in the current guidelines, citing rising rates of obesity and the link between

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How Many Thousands of Americans Will the Sugar Lobby's Latest Victory Kill?

Here is the news from Andrea Petersen’s December 29, 2020 Wall Street Journal article “New U.S. Dietary Guidelines Reject Recommendation to Cut Sugar, Alcohol Intake Limit”:

The federal government on Tuesday issued new dietary guidelines that keep current allowances for sugar and alcohol consumption unchanged, rejecting recommendations by its scientific advisory committee to make significant cuts.

The scientific committee, which was composed of 20 academics and doctors, had recommended cutting the limit for added sugars in the diet to 6% of daily calories from 10% in the current guidelines, citing rising rates of obesity and the link between obesity and health problems like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The committee also recommended lowering the limit for alcoholic beverages for men to one drink per day from two, matching the guidance for women. It pointed to research linking greater alcohol consumption to a higher risk of death.

Many of my readers are already convinced of the toll that sugar takes on our bodies, but may think that moderate drinking is harmless. If that is you, take a look at “Data on Asian Genes that Discourage Alcohol Consumption Explode the Myth that a Little Alcohol is Good for your Health” to have all the relevant information at your disposal. For some, the benefits of moderate drinking in other dimensions may make up for the physical harm, but there is some physical harm. If you thought in the past that there was no physical harm (or perhaps even the benefit claimed by those only looking at raw correlations) from alcohol, understanding the “Mendelian randomization” evidence about alcohol should lower your estimate of the optimal level of alcohol consumption.

Also, it should be noted that, according to Peter Attia, alcohol, even in moderate amounts, tends to seriously lower sleep quality. That alcohol sometimes makes it easier to fall asleep sometimes gives people the idea that alcohol is good for sleep, but overall it is disruptive of sleep. (It is seen as a bad sign in our culture if someone begins drinking early in the day. But for the sake of sleep, it would be better if our culture saw drinking at any time other than the morning—and that in moderation—as a shocking thing.)

Turning to sugar, I don’t know the precise death toll from the sugar lobby’s victory, but my title above asks the right question. Suppose for example that a reduction in the recommended ceiling from 10% of calories from sugar to 6% of calories from sugar led to people actually reducing sugar intake by half a percent of all calories? How many lives could have been saved over the coming five years (before the next set of guidelines are created)?

Although Brandon Lipps, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the Department of Agriculture paid lip service to an insufficiency of scientific evidence in explaining the decision. But Andrea Petersen reports this on the lobbying in favor of that decision:

The American Beverage Association, which represents drink makers including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, urged the government to keep the 10% added-sugars limit during a public meeting in August. In response to the new guidelines, the organization’s president and chief executive Katherine Lugar said in a statement, “America’s beverage companies appreciate the common sense approach taken by USDA.”

The alcohol industry also lauded the government’s decision, with a spokesman for the Beer Institute praising “maintaining the long-standing definition of moderate alcohol consumption.”

A surprisingly large percentage of Americans believes in secret conspiracies. It is hard to keep secrets in large groups of people, so I tend to be skeptical about claims of secret conspiracies. But all one has to do is look around to see open conspiracies to harm the American people (for the sake of a buck). This is one.

(At least the new official guidelines recommend zero added sugar for children under two years old.)

For annotated links to other posts on diet and health, see:

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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