“I’m actually trying to undo the nanny state.” Coming as it did from a public health researcher, that sounds like a breath of fresh air, right? Has Kelly Brownell met his professorial arch-nemesis? Sadly, no.
That is in fact the Orwellian musing of Dr. Robert Lustig, whose new commentary in the journal Nature calls for, among other draconian infringements on personal choice, massive taxes on sugar-containing foods, laws to restrict the amount of sugar in food, and even carding people who buy soda.
What’s all the fuss about? Lustig claims sugar is as “toxic” like tobacco and alcohol and should be controlled like adult beverages. Last year The New York Times Magazine featured Lustig’s radical claims of “toxic sugar” in a piece written by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation “independent investigator.” (Remember that group?) His lecture on the “Bitter Truth” of sugar has over a million YouTube views. It didn’t matter that most responsible researchers (like one who called Lustig’s claims “a humbug”) didn’t give the idea credence: Lustig got his name in the newspaper. (The headline “Sugar’s Okay, Just Don’t Eat Too Much” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Is Sugar Toxic?”)
Food activists have a habit of saying things so outrageous that they just boggle the mind. Whether it is vegan activist Neal Barnard calling cheese “dairy crack” or the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) calling salt “the deadly white powder you already snort,” the American public can always count on the food puritans to speak the unbelievable and reveal their true desires. Calling a massive expansion of the “public health” apparatus “undo[ing] the nanny state” and calling sugar the equal of alcohol and tobacco surely adds to this pantheon of the absurd. You’d find more sanity on a PETA billboard.
Mercifully, these three researchers don’t speak for the medical community as a whole. One professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City told ABC News that “Sugar does not cause obesity and diabetes. Excess causes those, and it doesn’t matter where the excess comes from.” And a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association asked the question we’ve been asking for some time, namely, “What about lack of physical activity?” The whole tenor of Lustig’s piece led a Sydney University dietitian to tell The Australian, “I’m disgusted that Nature would publish this.”
That’s because it’s totally irresponsible. It doesn’t take an M.D., M.P.H., or Ph.D. to know that comparing a candy bar to a bottle of vodka defies common sense. Should there be a special government store for tonic water and fruit juice like the government liquor stores in many states? Should serving cake at a child’s birthday party be a criminal offense? We can only imagine the experience of the poor children who visit Lustig on Halloween.
Now that his name is plastered across the papers from Australia to Canada, Lustig wants his ideas made law, which (contrary to his Orwellian claims) would only empower the nanny state. It shouldn’t be surprising that former “Socialist Scholars Conference” speaker Marion Nestle told WebMD the article is a “wake up call” and Kelly “Twinkie Tax” Brownell claims that “this … suggests there is something different about sugar.” Since the only tool the public health activists choose to wield is the hammer of government regulation, their world is full of sweet, sugary nails.