C & H Sugar Refinery

Sugar’s Swoon Is Going Global

Declining American Soda ConsumptionSugar’s swoon appears to be passing a tipping point, according to a new industry analysis by Rabobank. Food marketers are bowing to consumer pressure and driving sugar out of products, even in developing markets.

Expanding on a U.S. Trend

For more than a decade now, the reputation of sugar as the primary culprit behind obesity trends has been growing. U.S. consumption of added sugars and sugar sweetened beverages peaked at the turn of the millennium.

But the market for sugar continued to grow in developing markets.

That refuge for marketing sugary foods is fading away. The Rabobank report describes a cycle of consumer preferencs:

At its heart, this is a story of steadily rising global obesity rates, finger pointing, and the repercussions of consumers cycling through a love/hate relationship with the three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fat, and protein – and, in the process, demonizing certain foods. Currently, protein is on the rise (certainly in North America and Europe), as sugar, sugar-containing products, and other highly refined carbohydrates are increasingly cast as the main villain in the unremitting rise in obesity and metabolic syndrome rates.

A “clean label” with a short ingredient list is the imperative that food companies are chasing. Added sugar will drop out. Artificial sweeteners are scary, so they aren’t coming back, either.

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up for a Discernable Health Impact

Now that global food makers are bowing to the storm of pressure that started with public health advocates, what are those advocates saying? Tom Farley, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, says it will take many years before any of this has an impact on public health. He says:

Sugar is a problem, but sugar is not the only problem.

In responding to doubts about the impact of Mexico’s sugar sweetened beverage tax, Barry Popkin and colleagues recently wrote:

The obesity epidemic will take decades to slow down, stop, and finally reverse itself, but other benefits might be seen sooner.

In other words, don’t hold your breath for health miracles from declining trends in sugar consumption.

Click here for the report from Rabobank, here for more from Quartz, here for more from FoodDive, and here for more from the Associated Press.

C & H Sugar Refinery, Crockett, California; photograph © Thomas Hawk / flickr

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August 20, 2017