Obesity and diabetes remain a major cause of health problem in the world. Many of the people in developing countries have been diagnosed with either of the two health complications, and the number continues to rise. Sugar is an important commodity consumed in the whole world. The sugar industry in such countries is doing well and contributes so much into the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Sugar cane farmers solely rely on the product to earn their living. However, a case study by Vio & Uauy (2007) indicates that sugar is the basic source of calories for humans. In most cases, calories are taken in terms of sugar or fat, leading to a too higher amount of energy in the body systems, consequently leading to what is known as ‘diabesity’. According to the World Health Organization, overweight and obesity lead to high rates of mortality and disabilities in the world (Mitchell, 2004).
Studies and consultations by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate the need for a shift away from the overconsumption of sugars on a global scale. According to their recommendations, a person should only take 10% or less of the added sugars as a percentage of total energy requirement. The issue has elicited a lot of controversies because it stands to affect the general aspect of the food industry as well as the dietary requirements of the populations. Challenges exist from the various stakeholders who come up with arguments that seek to influence the sugar consumption policies in the developing countries.
Vio & Uauy’s (2007) case study elaborates on some of the research outcomes and the opposing responses on each of them. They go ahead to point out some of the policy issues that surround some of the recommendations by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on diet, nutrition, and physical activity for the prevention of chronic disease. Following WHO and FAO Technical Reports (TRS 916 series) and the recommendation to reduce the amount of added sugar in the diet, sugar industry stakeholders are up in arms, raising concerns on the consequences of the same. Most of the developing countries that produce and export sugar have concerns on the economic impact of implementing the recommendations. The industry players in the developing countries are worried about what would happen in the future from the reduction of the added sugar consumption.
According to Mitchell (2004), the discussion on the recommendations affects other different sectors of the economy. For example, agricultural policymakers, nutritionists, and sugar industry players are all in a discussion on how to implement the requirements. However, the agricultural sector has questioned the outcome of the past researches by FAO and WHO, especially on the strength of evidence and the scientific merit (Rippe, & Angelopoulos, 2015). Currently, a few of the governments in the developing countries are in the process of implementing the recommendations; however, to varying degrees. The difficulty comes from the impact that such strategies are likely to cause to the individual local economies. Implementation requires coming up with policies to regulate the activities. Those developing countries that are in the process of implementing the recommendations from TRS 916 do so having been pushed by the need to reduce the impact of diabetes, obesity and related chronic diseases among their populations. That notwithstanding, Most of the developing countries are yet to come up with implementation policies.
The sugar controversy could be solved by a serious discussion on the health priorities and the impact of sugars on an economy. Major stakeholders like the food industry and agricultural sector still advance their dissatisfaction with the recommendations. For instance, besides claims of insufficient scientific evidence and that other prior research outcomes contradicted TRS 916, food industry feels that the recommendation of 10% or below for the added sugar should not apply in all countries. They cite prior studies that indicated that each person could require up to 25% of the total energy from added sugars (Stice, Yokum, Blum, & Bohon, 2010). Developing countries and the World Sugar Research Organization (WSRO) argue that sugar cane farming is a major source of livelihood to the local farmers. Therefore, reducing consumption would lead to poverty in these countries. To them, sugar remains a necessary contributor to the global and local economies.
The sugar industries see no alternatives to the sugar as a source of calories. The industry argues that developing countries could only afford sugar as a cheaper source of calories. There seem to be no cheaper alternatives to the populations in developing countries. Therefore, their priority remains to be the affordability of the sugar products as the major source of calories.
However, government subsidies complicate matters of sugar priorities. Majority of the governments in countries within the European Union (EU) and the US subsidize sugar production, making the product cheap. Sugar production in the developing countries is affected by the cheaper imports from countries like the US, Japan, and the EU. In essence, the poor farmers in the developing countries are already suffering because their governments are unable to subsidize production. In a country like Kenya, sugar cane farmers no longer get value for their products because of the cheap sugar imports from countries like Brazil. For developing countries, priorities must shift towards other products with better health consequences. The ministries of health have to take lead to ensure obesity and diabetes prevalence do not escalate.
The case study by Vio & Uauy’s (2007) explore some alternatives that could help the developing countries to implement the 10% sugar intake requirements for their populations. Research indicates that high consumption of added sugar provides energy but lack other nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Therefore, more sugar in the body is likely to weaken the immune system of a person from the lack of other essential nutrients. Industrialization in the developing countries, coupled with globalization has led to an increase in the refined carbohydrates. People take less of the traditional high-fiber food that is digested slowly in the system, providing vitamins and minerals. According to Angelopoulos, Lowndes, & Rippe (2014), added sugars provide ‘empty calories’ without other important nutrients for the body.
The traditional starchy foods are an alternative to refined added sugars for the body. Such foods can be grown and consumed in developing countries in order to fight chronic diseases. The intrinsic sugars are an alternative to the added sugars. The intrinsic sugars are found within certain intact food. They are available mostly in fruits and vegetables and are labeled as healthy, unlike the added sugars (Mitchell, 2004).
Economically, the sugarcane farmers can venture into such products like fruits and vegetables in order to diversify their sources of income. On the same note, sugar cane could be used to produce fuels for economical use rather than human consumption only. Such alternatives would ensure that a country reduces cases of obesity and diabetes while prospering economically.
Sugar producers can explore alternatives like in the production of biofuels. Alternative markets exist and the industry can exploit the same in order to enhance the financial gain and value addition. Brazil has excelled in encouraging the alternative market for the sugar industry.
It is a fact that reducing consumption of sugar would lead to the reduction of sugar production. This would mean that sugar cane farmers would likely lose a percentage of their income. However, the situation also provides an opportunity to venture into other products. Governments in the developing countries should take up the challenge and develop policies that seek to reduce the consumption of added sugars as per TRS 916. The policy must entail the participation of all the stakeholders within a given country. Each country must take advantage of the proposed changes in order to maximize the financial and health benefits. The local sugarcane farmers should consider diversifying their activities in order to gain from ore healthy crops like fruits and vegetables. At the same time, sugarcane products can be used to manufacture other products like fuels.
Establishing an Action Plan
Developing countries have the opportunity to diversify their economic activities in terms of the expected changes. The 10% sugar consumption requirement is in place because of the health-related problems. The health of the productive persons in society is at risk from the chronic diseases that contribute to the high mortality rates. As mentioned earlier, the action plan must involve all the relevant sectors within a country. For instance, Ministries of Health have to work with Ministries of Agriculture and other industry players like nutritionists and sugar sector businesspersons (Stice, Yokum, Blum, & Bohon, 2010).
The policy issues must seek to diversify the use of sugar and related products. Most of the agencies that argue against the implementation of the 10% sugar consumption note that farmers in developing countries stand to lose their source of livelihood. Action plan towards this argument should entail coming up with a policy that encourages farmers to grow alternative healthy crops like vegetables and fruits. Such crops provide intrinsic sugar that is considered healthy. On the same note, there could be no need to reduce the amount of sugar production. Brazil has set a good example by working towards using sugarcane as a source of energy. Developing countries should use sugar cane to produce an alternative source of energy like ethanol.
Reduced consumption of sugar by people is for the benefit of the whole population. The improved standard of living in developing countries has contributed to the increased consumption of processed sugar. Therefore, implementation of the FAO and WHO 10% recommendation is beneficial for each government. Other developing countries should borrow a leaf from Brazil that has made headway in coming up with alternative uses of sugarcane. Like in Brazil, various government ministries must work together in order to have a working policy. At present, most of the cars produced in the country use ethanol as an alternative source of fuel (Vio, & Uauy, 2007). Such an alternative is important because it reduces the use of biofuels from the fossils. At the same time, the government should work to encourage and subsidize healthy sources of sugar like vegetables and fruits.
Angelopoulos, T., Lowndes, J., & Rippe, J. (2014). No effect of type of sugar on whole body on hepatic insulin resistance. Obesity Review 15(2); 92–3.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). (1998). WHO/FAO joint expert consultation: Carbohydrates in human nutrition. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 66. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1998.
Mitchell, D. (2004). Sugar policies: Opportunity for change. Policy Research Working Paper 3222. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Rippe, J., & Angelopoulos, T. (2015). Sugars and Health Controversies: What Does the Science Say? Advances in Nutrition 6(4); 493S- 503S. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.114.007195
Stice, E., Yokum, S., Blum, K., & Bohon, C. (2010). Weight gain is associated with reduced striatal response to palatable food. Journal of Neuroscience 30:13105–9.
Vio, F. & Uauy, R. (2007). The Sugar Controversy: Case Study #9-5 of the Program: “Food Policy for Developing Countries: The Role of Government in the Global Food System”. CUL Initiatives in Publishing (CIP).