Dear President Joe Biden,
During your campaign, you promised to “follow the science.” Well, now’s your chance. The recommendations for added sugar in the 2020-2025 USDA dietary guidelines — released under the Trump administration — follow the sugar industry, the processed food industry, and the money. These recommendations fly in the face of science, and will continue to cause significant harm to American children and adults, with unfortunate health and financial ramifications for years to come.
It is in the best interest of Americans that you amend this decision by reducing the USDA guideline’s added sugar quota to less than 6% of total calories, from its current level of 10%, and give Americans a fighting chance at health. Reducing sugar consumption is essential to improving the health and productivity of all Americans.
In an 835-page report written by a team of academic medical doctors, PhDs, and RDs on the USDA’s dietary guidelines advisory committee, the team explicitly stated that, given “the scientific evidence … the Committee suggests that less than 6% of energy from added sugars is more consistent with a dietary pattern that is nutritionally adequate.”
The USDA ignored this recommendation. Instead, the USDA is keeping the added sugar recommendation at the previous level of 10%, because “the new evidence is not substantial enough to support changes to quantitative recommendations for added sugars or alcohol.” This message was conveyed by Mr. Brandon Lipps, Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, to the Wall Street Journal.
Note: Mr. Lipps is a lawyer, not a medical professional. Let’s not ignore the fact that, in the five years that the previous guidelines have been in place (2015-2020), diabetes increased in the U.S. population from 30 million to 34 million Americans.
The suggested 4% drop in total calories from added sugar (from 10% to 6%) might not seem like a lot, but it represents 20 grams of sugar per person, per day, which adds up to roughly 2,400,000,000,000 — that’s two trillion four hundred billion — extra grams of sugar per year consumed in the U.S.
Let’s be clear: the human body does not need a single gram of added sugar to survive.
American bodies and the U.S. healthcare system are literally crumbling under the weight of added sugar in American diets. COVID-19 has been shown to be significantly more lethal in individuals with high blood sugar, and diabetes and obesity are key drivers of mortality.
This fact, however, did not stop President Trump from increasing sugar imports in April 2020 due to increased ‘demand’ during coronavirus. Nearly three-quarters of Americans are overweight or obese, conditions directly related to sugar consumption. Some 128 million Americans are diabetic or prediabetic, and 90% of those with prediabetes don’t know they have it. Nine of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. are a result of, or made worse by, poor blood sugar. Children are developing increasing rates of fatty liver disease and chronic liver dysfunction — up 62% in the past 10 years.
These are results of too much refined sugar in the diet, particularly fructose, which, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, is subsidized by Congress to the tune of nearly $500 billion. Diets high in sugar or blood sugar dysregulation are associated with mental illness, reduced cognition and learning, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and suicide. The development of high blood sugar is largely preventable with healthy living, and contributes to an astronomically diverse degree of human and economic suffering.
We are a country that aggressively subsidizes disease-promoting foods, has weak regulations on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children (unlike many other western countries), and serves nutritionally unsound foods in schools — which exceed the daily recommendations for added sugars — and hospitals, and then asks taxpayers to cover the costly bill for the health ramifications. Promoting guidelines that, if followed, will put more money in the pockets of the refined food industry, and impair the wellbeing, lifespan, and livelihoods of American people, adds insult to injury.
The food companies on the 2020 Fortune 500 list are universally sugar-slingers: PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, Hershey, McDonalds, J.M. Smucker, TreeHouse Foods. None of them stand to benefit from guidelines that reduce sugar, and many of them are highly politically active in trying to promote their message of sugar being innocuous.
The economic consequences of guiding Americans to eat more sugar are dire. People with diabetes may have 44% less productivity at work. Individuals with diabetes incur more than $16,000 of healthcare costs per year, 2.3 times more than someone without diabetes. America spends $327 billion on diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. and $147 billion on direct costs of obesity (data from the CDC that hasn’t been updated in 12 years). However, the real price tag is much higher, given that high blood sugar drives Alzheimer’s dementia, cancer, stroke, heart disease, infertility, erectile dysfunction, chronic kidney and liver disease, preventable blindness, and more.
This is also a social justice issue. Minorities and the poor disproportionately suffer from blood sugar-related diseases, and are most reliant on school lunches and nutrition assistance programs like SNAP, which are influenced by USDA guidelines. Lax USDA nutritional guidelines will lead to more sugar on the plates and in the cups of the exact people who need the most health support and will widen health and economic disparities even more.
It is clearly time that we right this ship, follow the science, and encourage Americans to eat less added sugar. The payoff would be monumental in saved healthcare costs and increased productivity, and could even improve the resilience of all Americans in the face of a pandemic that targets people with high blood sugar.
David Perlmutter, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and fellow of the American College of Nutrition. Casey Means, MD, received her medical degree from Stanford University, is a founder of the metabolic healthcare company Levels, and associate editor of the International Journal of Disease Reversal and Prevention. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @drcaseyskitchen.
Last Updated February 19, 2021