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A new study published in the open-access science journal PLoS One offers some of the strongest evidence yet that sugar, and not other diet and lifestyle factors, is the primary cause of type 2 diabetes—a theory that the sugar industry has sought for decades to debunk.
The study’s four authors, including Robert Lustig of the University of California-San Francisco, examined data on sugar intake and diabetes prevalence in 175 countries “controlling for other food types (including fibers, meats, fruits, oils, cereals), total calories, overweight and obesity, period-effects, and several socioeconomic variables such as aging, urbanization and income.”
For each bump in sugar “availability” (consumption plus waste) equivalent to about a can of soda per day, they observed a 1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence. This is a correlation, of course, and correlation does not always equal causation. On the other hand, it’s an exceptionally strong correlation. “No other food types yielded significant individual associations with diabetes prevalence after controlling for obesity and other confounders,” the authors wrote in their summary. “Differences in sugar availability statistically explain variations in diabetes prevalence rates at a population level that are not explained by physical activity, overweight or obesity.”
The correlation, they also found, was “independent of other changes in economic and social change such as urbanization, aging, changes to household income, sedentary lifestyles, and tobacco or alcohol use. We found that obesity appeared to exacerbate, but not confound, the impact of sugar availability on diabetes prevalence, strengthening the argument for targeted public health approaches to excessive sugar consumption.”