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Study says sugar is killing us

February 4, 2014

Forget about adding that teaspoon of sugar to help the medicine go down. According to a new study, adding sugar to packaged foods and drinks may be a big reason that Americans are taking medicine in the first place.

It's long been known that too much sugar in the diet can lead to obesity, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Now, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, there is a statistical analysis to show what even small amounts of sugar are doing to the hearts of Americans. In short, they are doubling (or worse) our risk of dying from heart disease.

The average American gets about 300 calories or 15 percent of their daily total from added sugars. That compares to the World Health Organization's recommendation that people consume less than 10 percent of added calories from sugar added to products.

The research study led by Quanhe Yang, a senior scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 71 percent of adults consume more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. About 10 percent get 25 percent of more of their calories from added sugars, which include brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup and molasses in addition to common table cane sugar. Sugars from fruits are not included.

People who got between 17 and 21 percent of their calories from added sugars had a 38 percent higher risk of succumbing to heart disease than people who consumed below 10 percent of their calories.

To get an idea of how quickly an average person can pile up calories from sugar, consider that a single can of soda contains about 140 calories. People who drank seven or more servings of beverages sweetened by sugar per week were at a 29 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who consumed less.

On a slightly positive note, Americans are currently getting about 15 percent of their total calories from added sugars, down from 17 percent in 2004.

Discussion Questions:

Will the new research published on the health effects of added sugars in processed foods and drinks result in any further changes from the food industry? Does this research represent an opportunity for food retailers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which party is most responsible for Americans' consumption of added sugars in processed foods and drinks?


Grandma knew about the research some 100 years ago. She always told us, "All things in moderation." Someone drinking 7 cans of soda per day is likely heading toward issues other than just heart disease.

Prosper has recently released a new link to help consumers monitor health care issues.  Based on the December, 2013 MBI Study of 15,000+ adults, 11.3% of the population is walking around with diabetes, 26.4% have high blood pressure, and 21.1% are overweight. These are from the perspective of the respondents themselves.

As consumers learn of the danger of that they are putting themselves through, food retailers and manufacturers will be in a position to support better eating habits. One piece of pastry, or an occasional soft drink isn't going to kill us. Grandma had it right -- self regulate by moderation.

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Roger Saunders, Global Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

Hold on - before you run out and change retail strategies and consider new store signage yelling FIRE around sugar - or dump out the sugar bowl on your desk - keep in mind the PRESS over-pitches every possible piece of material they can find. They also "under pitch " the real and sometimes boring facts. (The RetailWire is excluded from these press-related facts....)

First - look at the basics of the study.

Next - Design, Setting, and Participants consisted of approximately 43,000 people nationally and the mix ranged from 1988-1994 to 2005-2010 (see report). They considered this a good "nationally representative sample of US adults."

Over these years (163 thousand person years) they "documented 831 CVD deaths."

Per the report "Conclusions and Relevance: Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality."

Last, does this statistic justify a major change in a retailers strategy? Is it really a great window for more business? Ignore the press "bubble" this report causes and stick with providing your customers with great service and the products they want.

Tom... eating my Frosted Flakes....

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Tom Redd, Global Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

There are two major dynamics in demography today: the aging of the Baby Boomers and the rise of the Millennial one.

Beginning to face its own mortality, the former group pursues a youth of mind and body which drives for more discerning purchases of healthier foods and living habits. As to the Millennials, this group seeks what I call "selfish authenticity" - a desire to see the world revolve around "my" personal needs and wants, to elevate being local, green, and organic and for companies to communicate and behave in a transparent and public way - including the clear listing of ingredients, sources, and GMO status.

What does that mean? Both ends of the mega demographic spectrum are concerned with a healthier lifestyle, are troubled by processed foods, and growing weary of reading unpronounceable 10-syllable ingredients in their food. But concern and good intentions are different from actual behavior. It's very difficult to change "addictive" behavior (including legal addiction to caffeine or sugar), so I am not holding out hope for significant downward change in per capita sugar consumption but the health system costs on that front alone will come back to haunt us in the decades to come. Despite that, food retailers do have a significant opportunity to cater to those rising sentiments and getting on the right side of the trend.

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Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP

It's old news. Overall, we won't see any changes but will continue to recycle past and current opportunities with new messages. People who consume too much sugar know one thing - it hasn't killed them yet.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

I don't think I could possibly add anything to the conversation after reading Tom Redd's incisive comments. These studies are designed to make headlines and do so until the next study emerges that contradicts this study's conclusions. Moderation in all things is boring, but good counsel.

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

People have choice and as a diabetic, if I drink pop and eat snickers, I will die much sooner than I want to. Common sense please, is the key to this. I speak in schools to lots of kids about eating well, and told them to give up the pop in their diets for starters.

I encourage healthy eating, and some of these kids have changed their eating habits, and have e-mailed me detailing the changes in their diet.

An occasional candy bar for kids is fine, but there are many good, healthy alternatives for people to enjoy food, and stay healthy. EDUCATION is key.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Like all of these studies they get headlines for a few days and then they quietly disappear. Some manufacturers and retailers are offering alternatives in many categories and savvy consumers are moving to healthier choices. However, my guess is most people consuming 7 sugary soft drinks per day are not going to change their diet enough to make a difference, even if they've heard about the study!

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

No, it won't cause any meaningful industry changes and yes, it presents a marginal opportunity in specialty niches.

HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is the top ingredient in processed foods that need a sweet taste. It's cheap and effective. There's no incentive for large scale producers to drop it or even "real" sugar for either costlier ingredients like stevia or to reformulate their products to have less sweetness.

Specialty brands or retailers can tout these findings and may gain marginal sales increases, but their customer base already gets the message.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

I am not sure about all the statistics, but can tell you I had a serious wake up call about three weeks ago. I am not eliminating anything but the amounts I am eating. No desserts. Sugar has never been a major part of my diet and never will.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Editor's Note: As a point of clarification, the study concludes that drinking one can of sugar-sweetened soda per day increases the risk of death.

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George Anderson, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher, RetailWire LLC

This is a well know fact that is often ignored by many consumers. Twenty five years ago I noticed my nephews drinking 24 ounce soda for breakfast. Not surprisingly, both are diabetics today. Heart disease and scores of other health problems are exacerbated by this addicting substance called sugar.

Tom Borg, Business Expert, Tom Borg Consulting, LLC

Like David said, this is old news. And be sure, we are not talking about sugar from the sugar bowl. We are talking about processed food manufacturers adding sugar to anything they can. Try to find bread without added sugar. It almost doesn't exist. Who needs sugar in bread?

Sugar in processed foods has only one objective, to make consumers eat more. And why shouldn't processed food manufacturers add it? That's their job.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

In the U.S. and in most mature markets around the world, nutritional value of food is making a painfully slow penetration into the consumers' lives. They may say that they care, however, bottom line, most of us eat what tastes good. And we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

The new research may increase awareness, but it is a slow drive to health and wellness. Those of us who have heeded a wake up call will avoid sugar - but the biggest driver for purchase and consumption will always be taste. Changing products so they meet consumer expectations for taste while reducing the amount of sugar will be a longer road ahead.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

The American public will ignore this study and thus no real change should be expected. There have been reports that coffee is bad for you and the next year a new study says coffee is good for you. There was a report that wine was bad for you and the next year a study said wine was good for you. Recently a study said diet soda was bad for consumers, so this leaves the consumer without any choice. I will wait for the next study to tell me sugar is good for me.

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W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

If there is either a public outcry or if demand for sugar heavy products decrease enough, then manufacturers will change.

America has an obesity epidemic; processed sugars and empty carbs are the culprits contained in irresponsible diets. Consumers of these diets are not the ones reading labels, are not the ones finishing 10k races, and are not the ones frequenting Starbucks. Everyone has the opportunity to educate themselves. If there was sufficient self-education on processed sugars, the Pepsi and Coke products with Splenda would be the best sellers.

Education begins in the home and must be part of every elementary and middle school curriculum. There is no police for diets (ok maybe Mike Bloomberg), but let's give our kids a chance with more responsibility at home and continuous education in the schools.

As for retailing, maybe someday the tables will be turned as healthier brands such as Kashi will have the prime shelf space over Nabisco. Go ahead, turn the boxes of cereal and cookies sideways and compare ingredients.

Alan Cooper, Training Consultant, Independent/Freelance

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