Addressing sugar addiction

17 April 2023

Sugar addiction is a serious health issue. It can result in health problems ranging from diabetes and cardiovascular disease to mental health problems such as depression and some experts have suggested that it may be as addictive as cocaine. See FoodNavigator for the full article.

However, it is often not considered an addiction. The ICD-10, the World Health Organization’s document classifying diseases, doesn’t recognise either sugar or food addiction.

Too much sugar intake is harmful for health. Scientific research has proven that sugar led to very poor physical health. A recent study in the British Medical Journal​ concluded that high dietary sugar consumption is generally more harmful than beneficial for health, especially in cardiometabolic disease​.” Sugar can also have negative effects on mental health and has been linked to depression.

Although those existing risks, sugar addiction affects many people all around the world.

Dr Bunmi Aboaba, a food addiction expert stated that “eating sugar releases opioids and dopamine in our bodies​”. It thus follows the ‘same addiction pathway’ as other addictions.

Many experts believe that treating sugar as an addiction would help people give it up. ​Dr Jen Unwin, from Public Health Collaboration, agrees completely and adds that “studies have shown this can reduce stigma and increase understanding of why some people lose control of their sugar consumption​.

Dr Aboaba believes that, up until now, the food industry has been part of the problem with the “processing, packaging and distribution of ultra-processed foods that cause disordered eating behaviours“.

By focusing on the right factors, the industry can change. They should

  • stop the normalisation of large portion sizes”.
  • stop “labelling diet and health products which are misleading“.
  • reduce unnecessary sugars and sugar substitutes in their products
  • not use multiple different names for sugar in the ingredient list.
  • “encourage consumers to buy fresh real food and prepare it at home​.”

According to Dr Unwin, the responsibility for sugar addiction doesn’t just lie with the food industry but with the government as well. Governments should make more to address this issue.

Since its creation, SAFE has been at the forefront of helping to prevent high sugar consumption, especially among children, who are the target of marketing. SAFE has organised numerous sugar training sessions in schools to teach children about healthy eating.

To learn more about SAFE’s sugar action: