Among the least likely viral megahits on YouTube is a 90-minute lecture by the food scold and pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, entitled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.”
“Public reception of Lustig’s new book, Fat Chance, will likely be just as divided,” reports todays Salon.com. “The book repeats and expands on the main point of contention in the sugar wars: whether our bodies treat all calories the same. The old guard says yes: A calorie is a calorie; steak or soda, doesn’t matter. Eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Lustig believes that our bodies react to some types of calories differently than others. Specifically he believes that sugar calories alter our biochemistry to make us hungry and lazy in ways that fat and protein calories do not. As a result, he says, the ubiquity of sugar in the Western diet is making Americans sick, obese, and bankrupt.
“But Lustig does not stick to explaining his reasoning and raising public-health awareness. “Education has not worked. Labeling has not worked. And they’re not going to work,” he told me in his characteristically emphatic way. “Education hasn’t worked for any addictive substance.” According to Lustig, we need to accept that America’s obesity problem can’t be fixed by a Puritan resolution by each individual to eat fewer calories. To fix America’s obesity problem, we need a regulatory framework for selling and serving less sugar-laden food.
“A morning spent in Lustig’s UCSF Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Clinic (next door to Lustig’s endocrinology clinic) puts a person in touch with the Sisyphean absurdity of trying to solve the nation’s weight problem one patient at a time. The exam rooms fill up with fat kids. They empty and fill again. Tucked in a back corner of the second floor of a clinic building across the street from Benioff Children’s Hospital is Lustig’s office, a cramped galley that he shares with two doctors, two nurses, a nutritionist, and a social worker. The computers look vintage, circa 1997.”