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Sugar Shock: How faulty science hid the health effects of sugar.

Trick or treat! It's almost Halloween--and that means piles of candy. But should you eat it? Sugar has gotten a lot of negative attention lately for causing problems like obesity (too much body fat) and diabetes (high blood sugar).

"There is definite evidence that too much sugar can increase the risk of many health problems," says Dr. Sheela N. Magge. She's a pediatrician in Washington, D.C.

Doctors didn't always think this way. For years, sugar was considered mostly harmless. But new research suggests that's partly because of dishonest science back in the 1960s. The sugar industry secretly paid for a study blaming fat in food--not sugar--for health problems.

Hiding the Evidence

In the 1960s, scientists were trying to figure out why so many Americans die of heart disease. It's the leading cause of death around the world.

Researchers found evidence that both fat and sugar can cause heart disease. But a group called the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) didn't like that result. The SRF represented sugar companies. Those companies would lose money if Americans ate fewer sweets.

Last year, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, found papers from the 1960s. The papers show that the SRF paid three nutrition scientists to write a scientific review. This type of article uses evidence from many studies to draw conclusions.

The nutrition scientists published their review in 1967. It concluded that fat causes heart disease. It downplayed the evidence against sugar. Today, scientists must state if they've been paid by anyone who might unfairly influence their research. But in the 1960s, that wasn't required.

The article swayed public opinion for decades. But recent research shows that sugar isn't harmless after all.

Healthier Choices

Your body needs calories, or energy stored in food. But sugary foods tend to have too many, says Magge. The body stores this extra energy as fat. Sugar can also cause problems like diabetes that increase the risk of heart disease later on.

Many healthy foods, like fruit and milk, naturally contain some sugar. But the problem is extra sugar that's added to some foods, explains Kimi McAdam. She's a registered dietitian based in Anaheim, California.

According to the American Heart Association, kids ages 2 to 18 should try to eat no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day (see Sugar Sources, right). "That's less than is in a can of regular soda," says McAdam.

One Halloween sugar splurge won't cause heart disease, adds McAdam. It's daily choices that make a difference. She suggests drinking water or milk instead of soda and eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. "If you're going to have sweets, moderation is key," she says.


Sugar Shock

READING LEVELS: Lexile 870 / Guided Reading Level Q

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Learn how sugar in food affects health, then calculate how much sugar is in one portion of gum.



Core Idea: LS1.C: Organization for matter and energy flow in organisms

Practice: Using math

Crosscutting Concept: Scale, proportion, and quantity


Reading Informational Text: 1. Refer to specific evidence from a text.


Science: 3.3A, 4.3A, 5.3A, 6.3A

ELA: 3.13B, 4.11, 5.11,6.10

Lesson Plan

(1) Examine nutrition labels to prompt discussion about added sugar in processed foods.

Watch the video "Sugar Secrets" at to learn about sugar and review how to read a nutrition label.

Provide students with wrappers or boxes from packaged foods. If you do not have them readily available, ask students to each bring a container from home prior to the lesson.

Explain that ingredient lists are written in order from greatest to least quantity. In small groups, have students examine the ingredients and nutritional content for each food. They should identify the sugar content in grams, the types of sugar included, and where they are listed in the ingredients (e.g., corn syrup is the first ingredient listed). Encourage students to look up any ingredients they do not recognize.

Ask students to write down at least one question that they have about sugar content in foods. Have volunteers share their questions. Record them somewhere that they can remain displayed throughout the lesson.

(2) Read the article in small groups, with partners, or independently.

Ask students to share if anything they learned about sugar content surprised them. Ask if they plan to change anything about what they choose to eat and drink. (Answers will vary but may include drinking less soda or reading nutrition labels before buying something.)

(3) investigate the amount of sugar in a piece of gum.

Explain to students that they will investigate the sugar content in chewing gum. Have them use the skill sheet "Candy Grams" on page T11 to guide their investigation and interpret their data.

Ask students to reflect on what they learned. Does a single piece of gum contain a lot of sugar? (no) Is it possible for small amounts of added sugar to make a big difference? (Yes, if a person chews a lot of gum, it could contribute toward a significant portion of sugar in their diet. Other small habits can also have long-term effects.) Remind students that habits are more important for staying healthy than any single meal or snack.


available at

Skills sheets:

Candy Grams (T11): Find how much sugar is in a piece of gum.

Snack Facts (online only):

Answer questions using specific details from a nutrition label.


Sugar Secrets: Learn how to read a nutrition label to tell how much sugar is in a food product.


Candy Grams

In "Sugar Shock" (pp. 14-15), you read about sugar's changing reputation. Doctors are now advising people to avoid eating too much added sugar. Try this activity to investigate how much added sugar is in some types of chewing gum.

Observe: Doctors recommend eating no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. Many types of candy and gum contain added sugar.

Ask a Research Question: How much sugar can gum contribute to a person's diet?

Form a Hypothesis Based on This Question: How many pieces of gum can you chew before reaching the 25-gram sugar limit?

Materials: A pack of wrapped gum (not sugar-free) with a nutrition label * food scale or balance that measures in grams * pencil and paper * clock


1. Obtain one piece of gum for each member of your group. Place the wrapped pieces on your scale or balance and measure the mass. Record how many pieces of gum you're using and their total mass.

2. Give each group member a piece of gum. Record the time and begin chewing your gum. Sugar in the gum will dissolve as you chew. Don't throw away your wrapper.

3. Once 10 minutes have passed, the gum should have lost most of its flavor. Place it back on the wrapper. Wait another 10 minutes for saliva on the gum to air dry. Measure the mass of all of the chewed gum. Record the result.

4. Analyze your data. What is the difference in mass between the chewed and unchewed gum?

Results: How much sugar was in each piece of gum you chewed? (Hint: How many pieces of gum did you measure in total?)


1. How did the gum's mass change as you chewed? Explain why this happened in your own words.

2. Was the change in mass the same as the amount of sugar listed on the nutrition label? Why do you think that is?

3. Turn to the article "Sugar Shock" and look at the chart on page 15. Based on the chart and your results, do you think chewing gum can be a significant source of added sugar in a person's diet? Explain your reasoning.


1. The mass of the gum decreases as the gum is chewed. Explanations will vary but should include that sugar in the gum dissolves and is swallowed.

2. Answers will vary. Labels typically list sugar in grams but not tenths of a gram. Students may also note that saliva has mass and may not have completely dried. 3. Yes. Answers will vary, but a daily habit of a few pieces of gum could add up to close to the recommended limit.

Caption: Sugar Sources: The average kid in the U.S. consumes 80 grams of added sugar per day. Here are the top five sources.
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Title Annotation:life science
Author:Brownlee, Christen
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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