Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City caused a controversy when he tried to ban the sale of sugary drinks more than 16 ounces.
Thus the “Big Gulp” rebellion was born, and the ban was later overturned by the courts. Yet the rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity remain out of control in the United States.
More than 24 million Americans older than 20 years old have diabetes. Another 78 million have pre-diabetes with blood glucose levels higher than they should be — the start of glucose intolerance.
And down the road, this may lead to life-threatening heart disease — the No. 1 killer of adults — which also is linked to obesity affecting more than 80 million Americans.
Much of the obesity epidemic has been blamed on unhealthy eating and poor nutrition. Refined sugar has been identified as a source of excess calories.
According to the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, almost 50 percent of sugar in the diets of Americans comes from sugary drinks and sweetened fruit drinks.
The debate over just how much sugar is too much in terms of our health was addressed by a recent study, and the results are sending shock waves through the medical community.
In the experiment, one group of mice ate a normal diet and another group ate a diet in which one quarter of the calories came from sugar similar to that in high fructose corn syrup. This level of sugar is pretty equal to that consumed naturally by 15 to 25 percent of the U.S. population.
This is equivalent to a person consuming three cans of a sugary beverage a day in an otherwise sugar-free diet. Current nutrition guidelines consider this to be at the top of the safe level of sugar for people.
After 26 weeks of a monitored diet, all the mice were released into an experimental natural environment. During the next 32 weeks, twice as many sugar-fed female mice died compared to the control group.
The sugar-fed male mice produced 25 percent fewer offspring and held 26 percent less territory than mice from the control group.
Overall, dietary sugar was linked to a shorter life span, limited reproduction and lowered competitive success.
Metabolic measurements on the sugar-fed mice showed changes in glucose clearance and increases in cholesterol levels, but these were considered minor.
Nevertheless, life outcomes called Organismal Performance Assays were significantly affected. This may represent a new way to gauge important changes in overall life parameters without corresponding physiological changes.
This certainly raises the question of how much sugar is too much, and the debate over the appropriate level of refined sugar for good human nutrition will continue.
It will be interesting to watch in the coming months and years to see if these results are substantiated and if they lead to new nutritional guidelines. Who knows — maybe Mayor Bloomberg was right after all.