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NUTRITION & HEALTH


A spoonful is said to help the medicine go down – but according to a growing body of research, sugar may in fact be the key culprit behind the current global epidemic of obesity and chronic disease RHIANON HOWELLS, CONSULTING EDITOR, SPA BUSINESS


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ugar. Whether you add it to your tea, sprinkle it on your cereal or devour it in desserts, there are few of us who can entirely resist it. We know it’s not good for our teeth


or our waistlines, but it tastes so nice that we tell ourselves it can’t really do us much harm – after all, it’s not as high in calories or as likely to clog our arteries as fat, is it? Last month, headline news in the UK labelled ‘sugar as the new tobacco’ as supermarkets were urged to cut the amount of sugar they use. But this isn’t the fi rst time sugar has received bad press. In February 2012, three American scientists led by Robert Lustig, a top endocrinologist and professor of clinical paediatrics at the University of California, published an article in the journal Nature, blaming sugar not only for the global obesity epidemic but also for a whole host of non-communicable chronic diseases. He compared its effects to those of alcohol, and


called for governments to regulate sugar-rich products through measures such as taxation, sales restrictions and age limits. Indeed, an increasing number of leading


scientists on both sides of the Atlantic are concurring on this one fact: beyond merely adding calories, sugar is also a toxin that is seriously damaging our health. But what’s all this got to do with health- focused business such as spas and fi tness clubs? According to Phillip Mills – CEO of fi t- ness fi rm Les Mills International (see SB08/3 p100) and author of Fighting Globesity – the answer is: absolutely everything. He feels gyms, spas and other wellness-focused facilities are well-placed to help tackle the problem. “If we really want to provide a solution to the terrible health crisis, we have to take on the food side of things – we can’t just be places where people come to run on a treadmill,” he says. “Tackling this issue is both a responsibility and an opportunity.”


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THE CASE AGAINST SUGAR So should sugar really be the primary tar- get in the fi ght against obesity and chronic disease? And if so, why? The most obvious argument is one few people would challenge: it’s high in calories and has little nutritional value. “I think it’s hard to mount a specifi c case against sugar except in so far as it con- tributes to obesity,” says Dr Susan Jebb, head of diet and population health at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Nutrition Research unit in Cambridge, UK. “But in a country where two-thirds of adults are over- weight or obese, we need to eat fewer calories while maintaining our intake of essential micronutrients. That inevitably implies cut- ting back on those items which add calories but few micronutrients – and this puts sugary products high on the list of targets.” Lustig’s case against sugar, however, is built on far more than the ‘empty calories’ argument. To quote the Nature article: “A


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