By Kristen Mitchell
Public health concerns around high sugar intake and what steps can be taken to address the issue will be highlighted in a series of three interdisciplinary events at George Washington University.
The Milken Institute School of Public Health, in conjunction with the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, the GW Food Institute and the GW Institute for Corporate Responsibility will host the first seminar focused on sugar and sweeteners on Thursday.
The first event will address whether proposed policies for reducing sugar intake on a population level are viable. The seminar will bring together experts in public health, policy and industry. Allison Sylvetsky Meni, an assistant professor with the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, helped organize the event.
Individuals are consuming too much sugar through sweetened beverages and processed food, which can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, Dr. Sylvetsky Meni said. It’s important to engage all stakeholders and take into account a variety of perspectives in order to make impactful changes, she said.
“We hope to bring together people from different disciplines and also people who have different or even opposing perspectives on reducing sugar and how we can do so” she said. “Bringing people to the table will help facilitate productive movement toward progress.”
Thursday’s event is the first of a three-part series. On March 22, experts will discuss why reducing sugar intake is so difficult. An April 26 panel will talk about sugar alternatives and other avenues for reducing the population’s sugar intake. All three events will be held at the School of Public Health and are open to the public. Attendees are asked to RSVP online.
Bill Dietz, chair and director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, said public education is critical to help people understand the complexity of the issues surrounding sugar. He is interested in ways to reduce sugar intake, particularly through sugary sports drinks and soda.
“Ultimately, the food and beverage industry is affected by the policies, including regulatory and legislative, that people in public health seek to inform. They are also responding to consumer demand for low- and no-calorie drinks,” Dr. Dietz said. “This sugar series provide an important opportunity for experts in public health, policy and industry to exchange ideas and explore solutions.”
Sugar poses a significant public health risk because sugary products are inexpensive, widely available and heavily marketed. Foods containing artificial sweeteners, while they do not have sugar or calories, can also have health impacts that need to be studied. Dr. Sylvetsky Meni’s research suggests the consumption of artificial sweeteners among children in the United States has skyrocketed by 200 percent over the last decade. Despite their popularity, some research shows these sugar substitutes may contribute to unhealthy weight gain.
“It’s not clear whether these are actually helpful in helping people manage their weight and preventing diabetes,” she said.
The population’s alarming sugar intake is a concern, and public health experts agree a multi-sector approach is needed to curb sugar consumption. How to accomplish that is a harder question, Dr. Sylvetsky Meni said.
SPH is launching a new bachelor’s of science in nutrition science degree program in Fall 2018 and is currently accepting internal transfers.