The Case Against Sugar

Examining the history, politics, and health effects of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup

Dates of Project: September 2009 through August 2014

Description: Through this project, Gary Taubes, MS,—recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research—has dug into a scientific puzzle. Most scientists see a link between increases in U.S. sugar consumption and rising rates of obesity and diabetes, but why can’t science tell us definitively whether sugar is supplying too many calories, or the wrong kind of calories? Taubes documents the role played by the sugar industry in shaping research, public perceptions, and policy development. His findings have appeared as magazine articles and will be published as a book.

“If I were conducting a police investigation into the causes of obesity and diabetes, I’d say we don’t have enough evidence to convict, but sugar is the prime suspect and we surely have enough to indict.”—Gary Taubes

Key Findings

  • In published articles, Taubes reports that:

    • Nutrition science has been dominated by a conceptual model that emphasizes sheer amount of caloric intake, neglecting research on how different kinds of calories affect the body’s hormonal system. (Taubes G. “Is Sugar Toxic?New York Times Magazine. April 17, 2011)
    • Definitive research to resolve scientific uncertainty about sugar’s health effects has been lacking. (Taubes G. “Is Sugar Toxic?New York Times Magazine. April 17, 2011)
    • Especially since the 1960s and 1970s, the sugar industry has worked to discourage the idea that sugar may be inherently toxic by influencing scientific research, public opinion, and official perceptions of sugar’s health effects. (Taubes G, Couzens CK. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” Mother Jones. November/December 2012)

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Over past 200 years, annual sugar consumption in U.S. has risen from 10–15 pounds per person to 90 pounds.