Researchers offered new evidence Tuesday linking sugar consumption with conditions that can lead to diabetes and heart disease in children. The study was designed to isolate the effect of added sugar in particular, as opposed to calories.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Touro University California took soda, pastries, sugary cereals and other foods and beverages sweetened with added sugar away from 43 Latino and African-American children and teens for nine days. They replaced those foods with pizza, baked potato chips, and other starchy processed foods.
The children were patients at a UCSF obesity clinic who had symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions such as high cholesterol that can lead to diabetes. The change reduced sugar in their diets to 10% of overall calories from 28%, the researchers said.
Despite the short period of time and a diet still heavy on processed food, the researchers said they found striking results. The children’s cholesterol and other lipid levels improved, and their insulin levels dropped.
“We reversed virtually every aspect of their metabolic syndrome,” said Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and lead author of the paper, published Tuesday in the journal Obesity. Of note, he said, triglycerides, high levels of which can contribute to a hardening of the artery walls and cause acute pancreatitis, showed a “very, very large improvement.”
The results are in keeping with Dr. Lustig’s long-held belief that sugar—specifically fructose, one of its components—stands out as a culprit in the obesity epidemic.