Injecting Sugar into Our Diets

The amount of sugar in the things we eat and drink has been causing tooth decay for decades. In the not-so-distant past, we valued the flavor of the foods we ate. There were no fizzy sugar-laden beverages on our tables. Since then, we have been injecting sugar into our diets at nearly every opportunity. In fact, many of the foods and beverages we consume contain so much sugar that it is the only flavor we appreciate. What happened?too much sugar - paid - Depositphotos 45756613 s-2019

A complete history of sugar consumption is not necessary at this point. We should understand, however, that as sugar became more popular demand grew. In response, production grew, as well as marketing of the product. In 1975, the U.S. Sugar Association launched the “Regional Nutritional Information Program.” The program was designed to convince dietitians to disseminate positive messages about sugar and good health. A recent study examined the implementation and impact of this program on dental professionals. The researchers identified 59 documents related to this program that were produced between 1974 and 1978.

Analysis of these documents led to the conclusion that this program was a key part of the Sugar Association’s public relations campaign. The message was that sugar is safe and beneficial as part of a balanced diet. This multi-faceted effort included:

  • Educational workshops
  • Inserting literature into libraries and curricula
  • Monitoring professional and consumer attitudes
  • Media appearances.

The trained dietitians engaged with dental professionals and documented their attitudes toward sugar. In time they influenced a conference of dentists to include pro-sugar speakers. In this way, they minimized the role of sugar in tooth decay. They also monitored dentist-researchers who were examining the high-sugar content of breakfast cereals and criticized them. Some people believe that more than a few “scientific” studies funded by the sugar industry were biased, as well.

Today there is news that sugary beverages will be introduced into African communities with a huge promotional campaign. Consumption of sugary drinks is highest in high income communities at this time. But the growth in sales of these beverages is apparent in lower to middle income communities. By 2020, the Coca-Cola Company plans to spend US$12 billion on marketing their products across Africa. Compare this with the World Health Organization’s total annual budget of $4.4 billion.

The dental community has created some sealants and topical fluorides to limit or reduce tooth decay that are very effective when properly applied. These treatments do not replace a healthy diet or remind the public that sugar consumption is the primary cause of tooth decay and gum disease.

What should we do to prevent the same tactics from being used in developing countries?

What should we do to counteract that messaging that sugar is beneficial in the U.S.?

Who should take responsibility for promulgating the truth?

Should the sugar (and tobacco and alcohol) industries be regulated in some way?

In some areas dental professionals are succeeding in spreading the word that sugar is harmful to teeth and gums. Many other communities have not begun to challenge the old messaging. If our communities could come together (all segments) and commit to the same message, we might succeed in changing public perception.