Sugar like 'alcohol for children'

Last updated 18:18 19/02/2014

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Sugary drinks are the "alcohol of the child" and New Zealanders are as bad as the rest when it comes to consuming the toxic sweetener, a US professor says.

Californian Robert Lustig, who has travelled the world taking on governments and food industries over sugar use, was in Auckland today at a University of Auckland symposium aimed at fighting sugary drinks.

Lustig is well known for his aggressive stance – a clip on You Tube where he explains his research into the effect of sugar on the body has had more than 4 million views.

Sugar, and in particular fructose, had toxic effects on humans beyond weight gain. The effect of fructose on the body was similar to that of alcohol in that it could cause a fatty liver, which leads to numerous health problems, he said.

 "Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has become an epidemic," he said.

Fructose also changed the brain and trained it to want more and more fructose, driving abuse and excessive consumption.

Sugary drinks were the main culprit and it was those drinks along with high carbohydrate and fat foods, such as potato chips, which were causing health problems, Lustig said.

Overuse of sugar in processed foods had seen a massive rise in diabetes around the world, including New Zealand. A quarter of all cases of diabetes worldwide could be explained by overuse of sugar, he said.

"We are all eating 300 more calories a day than we were 25 years ago," he said.

His remarks had attracted both good and bad attention around the world, Lustig said.

"I've been called both a saviour and a zealot in the past three hours. I am in fact neither. I am a scientist," he said today.

The symposium called Sugary Drink-Free Pacific by 2030 covers the science on sugar and poor health as well as public health solutions.

Symposium attendees will put forward a declaration to encourage in New Zealand the development of sugar-free alternatives to sugar-laden food and drink.

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- Fairfax Media

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