Expert’s fears over effects of high sugar intake

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High levels of sugar in food and drink could pose a bigger threat to public health than hard drugs such as heroin, a Sheffield researcher has said.

John Mooney, from Sheffield University’s School of Health and Related Research, supports proposals to bring in regulations governing sugar – ranging from guidelines on packaging to a tax on fizzy drinks.

“Sugar isn’t as intrinsically dangerous as heroin, but it’s to do with the level of population exposure,” said John.

“Just about everyone takes sugar. It stimulates the reward centre of the brain. Eventually over exposure will cause you to need more to get the same effect.”

Studies have found sugar added in large amounts to foods as unlikely as canned soup, bread and low-fat yoghurt.

A high intake is known to be a major factor in contributing to lifestyle-related type 2 diabetes and obesity, which in turn can increase the risk of some cancers.

John said bringing in a ‘traffic light’ system on packaging would likely cause firms to change their recipes.

“They would chase green labels by reformulating products,” he said. “If we reduced levels of sugar across the board, people probably wouldn’t notice.”

John gave a talk as part of the university’s Life Festival, a week-long series of health events and activities.