EatingWell Interviews Robert Lustig on America's Obesity Epidemic

By: Rachael Moeller Gorman  |  January/February 2013
We talk with Robert Lustig about the role of government in obesity issues, why sugar is addictive and how people can lose weight.
Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, famously called sugar a poison in a medical lecture that went viral in 2009. Now he weighs in on the obesity epidemic. His new book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, explains why it’s so hard not to be obese in our society, and what we—and the government—need to do about it.
Should the federal government do something, such as put a cap on soda sizes, as New York City has done?
“Will [NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban solve obesity? Of course not. But am I for it? Absolutely, because it’s the first rational municipal step towards reducing consumption. Subsidize the right stuff and tax the wrong stuff— a carrot and stick approach. People [who eschew government intervention] think they’re fighting for their freedom. The freedom is already gone.
You write that the obesity epidemic arose from food becoming an addictive substance and a commodity. Why has this happened?
“Sugar is weakly addictive and has hijacked our biochemistry: 80 percent of American supermarket foods are now laced with added sugar. As [processed food manufacturers] took fat out and put sugar in, we bought more. Also, the way you make food storable—and cheaper—is to get rid of the fiber. Ultimately this is a fight between your wallet and your health.”
What do you tell people who want to lose weight?
“A calorie is not a calorie. Low-sugar, high-fiber foods cause lower blood sugar peaks, less insulin release and less weight gain. That’s called real food. The other way to manage weight is to burn glucose so you don’t need insulin. That’s called exercise.”