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For Immediate
September 25, 1998


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Congress Seeks to Kill Federal Sugar Advice

If the House of Representatives has its way, the federal government will no longer advise consumers about how much refined sugar to consume.  That dietary advice is critically important in a nation where sugar consumption is higher than ever and obesity rates are soaring.  The report for the House Agriculture Appropriations bill calls on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to eliminate the advice on sugar in its Food Guide Pyramid.  Critics are charging that the food industry snuck that language into the report.

This isn’t the first time the food industry has tried to distort the Pyramid’s advice to suit its needs.  In 1991, after lobbying by representatives of the meat and dairy industries, USDA delayed the release of the Pyramid for a year.

A guide to the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid provides the government’s only quantitative recommendation about sugar intake.  For example, it recommends that people consuming 2,200 calories a day eat no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar.  A can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons.

As the Agriculture Appropriations bill goes to conference, more than a dozen health and consumer organizations -- including the American Public Health Association, former Surgeon General Koop’s Shape Up America!, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) -- have urged the politicians to stop playing nutritionist.

In a letter to members of the Agriculture Appropriations conference committee, the citizens groups charged that the House report "would have adverse effects on the public’s health.  Congress should not be asking the USDA to use taxpayer money to rescind important health advice."

The House Report would require the USDA to revise its quantitative advice about sugar to make it consistent with the qualitative advice in other government materials.  Michael Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit CSPI, charged, "Food-industry lobbyists got the House to include that language in the report because Americans are consuming far more sugar than the USDA recommends.  Eliminating the measuring rod makes it harder to criticize the product."

The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day.   That’s 16% of our calories.  For teens, sugar makes up 20% of calories.   Teenage boys consume an average of 34 teaspoons of added sugars daily -- twice the recommended amount for those boys.  Teenage girls consume 24 teaspoons of added sugars -- almost three times the recommended 8.5 teaspoons.

Sugary foods may contribute to obesity because they are high in calories.  One out of two adults and one of eight teens are seriously overweight.   Nutritionists are also concerned that such foods as soft drinks, cookies, cakes, candies, and ice cream crowd healthier foods -- like lowfat milk, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains -- out of the diet.

"At a time when obesity rates are soaring, we should be reducing sugar intake, not muzzling nutrition advice," said CSPI senior scientist Margo Wootan.  "It’s shameful that members of Congress are quietly doing industry’s bidding to weaken dietary advice just when consumers need it most."

Eliminating the quantitative recommendation for sugar intake also would be detrimental to Americans’ bone health (and the dairy industry’s economic health).  One third of the sugar Americans consume is in the form of soft drinks, which are replacing milk in Americans’ diets.  According to USDA surveys, in 1977-78, teenage boys consumed more than twice as much milk as soft drinks and teenage girls consumed 50% more milk than soft drinks.  But, in 1994-96, teenage boys and girls consumed twice as much soda pop as milk.  Eliminating government guidelines on sugar intake would only accelerate that trend.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Report does not contain the House’s provision regarding federal sugar recommendations.  So the Conference Committee still has the opportunity to reject the House’s demand for eliminating quantitative sugar advice.

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