Skip to main content

Don't believe everything you hear about 'sugar'

By Andy Briscoe
updated 6:31 PM EST, Tue February 11, 2014
Andy Briscoe, head of the Sugar Association, says the media often confuse natural sugar for high-fructose corn syrup.
Andy Briscoe, head of the Sugar Association, says the media often confuse natural sugar for high-fructose corn syrup.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andy Briscoe says media reports involving natural sugar are often misleading
  • Briscoe contends recent studies linking excess sugar to poor health are inadequate
  • Too often, he argues, headlines confuse sucrose -- or sugar -- with high-fructose corn syrup

Editor's note: Andy Briscoe is the president and CEO of the Sugar Association.

(CNN) -- Just about every time an article about "sugar" is published, I get frustrated because of the effort by some to falsely target sugar.

Although reporters often ask the Sugar Association for scientific facts and data regarding sugar to use in their stories, the information we provide is rarely included. Often, it's completely ignored because it does not support the preconceived focus of their article.

Thus, a tremendous amount of factual, scientifically verified information about all-natural sugar (sucrose) is being left out of today's conversation. And, sugar, the natural version, is too often confused with the more prevalent man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

That's misleading for consumers. And it's bad for advancing a real debate about solving the serious problem of obesity in America.

Andy Briscoe
Andy Briscoe

Opinion: The sweet secret that could kill you

I'm talking about a legitimate, credible discussion, supported by government data and independent scientific research, not hysteria and misinformation. Those using inflammatory and baseless phrases like "toxic" are often more concerned with a sound bite to sensationalize an article or TV appearance, and their claims have more to do with boosting their social media following or selling books than resolving genuine issues of public health. Targeting sugar alone is disingenuous, at best.

The most recent example of this trend is a study that appeared in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, and the media storm that ensued, condemning sugar as a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease.

Consider this: The authors of the study itself concede that an observational study like theirs is not proof of cause and effect. The authors fail to note the weakness of the self-reported data they used to estimate intake levels of "added sugar."

This inadequacy is demonstrated by the fact that study participants self-reporting higher levels of physical activity had a greater, not the expected lower, risk of cardiovascular disease. And the study's authors also simplistically lumped together all caloric sweeteners as "added sugar" rather than identifying them individually (more on this in a minute).

Yet that didn't stop headlines like "Sugar tied to fatal heart problems" or "Eating too much sugar may be killing you."

Report: Sugar raises heart concerns
Put down that sugar!
Can Oreos be as addictive as cocaine?

Sugar not only makes you fat, it may make you sick

These headlines -- and many others resulting from the study -- underscore the problem consumers are facing when seeking factual information on health.

Having worked with the U.S. sugar industry for more than a decade, I am becoming more and more dismayed by those habitually providing a megaphone for what "some" folks are saying while barely giving a thought to whether these claims reflect a consensus view that is either prevailing among qualified experts or is scientifically correct.

Although obsessing about sugar as "the" problem in our diets gives headline writers everywhere the chance to grab our attention with provocative puns, it undermines the worth of important work regarding other dietary and health concerns. It takes the focus and resources away from us supporting scientifically verified, proven interventions dealing with obesity.

The fact is that American per capita consumption of real sugar (sucrose) is lower now than it was 40 years ago by approximately one-third (34%). So of all the things we need to worry about in this world, "higher" consumption of sugar is not among them. Because we've been consuming less of it for decades.

And when critics talk about consumption of "sugar-sweetened" or "sugary beverages," they are often inaccurately lumping sugar -- from sugar cane and sugar beets -- with man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, for example, are different sweeteners. They are molecularly different. With U.S. Department of Agriculture data showing that more than 90% of the caloric sweetener used in beverages in the United States is such corn syrup, not sugar, how can the media, or anyone, continue to call them "sugar-sweetened beverages"?

So Americans just need to remember: Only sucrose, or sugar, is sugar. Sugar has been consumed safely for centuries and, when consumed in moderation, has been and should continue to be part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. That's a fact.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andy Briscoe.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT