Why sugar is the new health worry Photo | Joseph Kanyi (posed by model) | NATION That sweetened tea, juice, chocolate or cake you are reaching out for may have adverse health consequences. By GATONYE GATHURA firstname.lastname@example.org Posted Friday, May 6 2011 at 22:00 In Summary Growing evidence suggests that the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and cancer can be traced back to sugar intake Governments and international health agencies consider action over diet crisis targeting sugar among others New evidence implicating sugar for the rise in lifestyle diseases has governments and international agencies scrambling to forestall a future epidemic. Related Stories Children growing fatter and sickly due to junk food The increased use of sugar one of the most popular sweeteners at home and in the use of processed food and drink formed part of the discussion this week at an international conference in Russia, which ends on Saturday. And last Thursday, the US government announced sweeping new guidelines that seek to limit the advertisement of sugar products aimed at children. Citing an epidemic of childhood obesity, regulators are taking aim at a range of tactics used to market foods high in sugar, but also fat or salt to children, including the use of cartoon characters. It is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster; a disaster for health, for society, and most of all for national economies, said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in a statement after launching the Global status report on non-communicable diseases in Moscow, Russia. Dr Chan addressing the 191 WHO member countries, called for immediate and aggressive action against tobacco, alcohol, foods rich in salts, fats and yes sugar to stop what it called globesity The world body is advocating for the lowering intakes of sugar, salt, and saturated fats and limiting the marketing of food to children, and using tax and pricing policies to influence food consumption. WHO says, for example, that 36 million people died from conditions such as heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes in 2008. Most of these, who included about 800,000 Kenyans, are from developing countries and most under the age of 70. Two weeks ago, Gary Taubes an author and contributor to the New York Times kicked a huge debate with his article, Is Sugar Toxic. Citing extensive research, he concluded that the excessive consumption of sugar was a cause for many of these killer lifestyle diseases. Taubes argued that increasing evidence suggests that the granulated sugar we put in our tea or tart on that morning cereal, or corn syrup, much used in the soft drink and confectionary industry are a contributory factor to the increasing incidence of lifestyle diseases. While the WHO started to develop guidelines on how to reduce sugar in processed foods as early as 2003, evidence adduced in the new global report has galvanised the world into action. According to the minister for Medical Services, Prof Anyang Nyongo, who attended the Moscow meeting, almost half of all hospital beds in the country today are occupied by people suffering from lifestyle diseases, and this is getting worse. Within the next nine years, he estimated, those seeking medical care for lifestyle diseases will have by far outstripped other ailments in the countrys healthcare system. The world, he says, is concerned and will meet again in New York in September to draw attention to the grave danger posed by non-communicable diseases. Every country and individual, says Prof Nyongo, will be asked to make a lifestyle choice and walk away from risks that could lead to early obesity or heart problems. Such choices include, proper diets that are low in sugar, salt and fat while rich in fruits and vegetables. The head of the non-communicable diseases unit at Kenyas Ministry of Medical Services, Dr William Maina, says the situation is alarming. More people, he says are consuming unhealthy foods, which are high in salts, fats and added sugars consequently putting their lives at risk of health complications and early death. Are we consuming too much sugar? According to the US Federal Drug Agency, if one is consuming 18kg of added sugar per year, above what naturally comes from fruits and vegetables, it may be too much. WHO figures indicate Kenyans per capita sugar consumption has averaged 21kg annually since 1991 more than twice as much as Tanzania and Uganda.