The National Academy of Sugar

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is at it again.
August 24, 2015

You might think an outfit calling itself an academy would be, you know, academic.  But “>in the New York Times and amplified by The Daily Show, the “>other news outlets, raised such a public stink that its endorsement of Kraft Singles “>And Now a Word From Our Sponsors,” the academy’s “>Dietitians for Professional Integrity, an organization of academy members who believe Americans deserve nutrition information “not tainted by food industry interests,” “>is back in the news.  This time it’s for an article about added-sugar labeling in an issue of its seemingly academic publication, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  The article reports the findings of a survey carried out and paid for by the International Food Information Council Foundation.  Whatta name! It’s like having, “We’re not lobbyists, pimps, propagandists or obfuscators – we’re legit! No, really!” tattooed on your forehead.  This Foundation, you will not be shocked, shocked to learn, is funded by the food and beverage industry.

Added sugar has no nutritional value; that’s why its calories are called “empty.” It’s not the sugar that occurs naturally in some foods, like fruit.  It’s the sugar added to a product during the manufacturing process, making it taste sweet.  That sugar, along with added salt and fat, changes our brains. The more we eat, the more we crave.  It’s not a moral failure – it’s chemistry.  As former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler “>recommends.   

What prompted the nice folks at the International Food Information Council Foundation (I love saying the name) to pay for a survey was an F.D.A. proposal to require packaged food and beverage labels to state not only the grams of added sugar, but also what percent of your daily max of added sugar calories is in it.  It’s sobering to read that the Venti Salted-Caramel Mocha you’re about to hoist contains 71 grams of sugar; it could be horrifying to learn that it blows past 140 percent of the F.D.A.’s daily added sugar limit.   

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation survey, consumers would be confused if food labels had to include an added sugar percentage. The label might be technically accurate, but people would believe that even more sugar had been added than actually was, and so they’d be less likely to buy the product.  In other words, what’s wrong with the labeling is that it would work. 

On the heels of this news, the Times also “>research not funded by the industry, African-American kids in the U.S. – who have higher rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases – are more than twice as likely to see TV ads for candy and soda than their white counterparts.  Thirty-nine percent of Hispanic and Latino kids are overweight or obese, but “over two-thirds of the Spanish TV ads that are directed to [Latino children] are really pushing fast food, sugary drinks, candy and snacks.”

It’s hard enough to keep up with changing nutritional guidelines. But unless you’re an expert, it’s damn near impossible to tell the difference between independent research and research ginned up by trade groups and marketers. Not long ago, I was especially gladdened to learn that butter and eggs were back. Unfortunately, I now realize I have to go back and see whether my bliss was bought and paid for by the National Academy of Bovine Studies and the Global Galline Information Institute Foundation.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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