Sugar, ah honey, honey | Deccan Herald

I’m not a fan of the Archies’ bubble-gum pop song, Sugar, from 1969, but it is a bit catchy, and undeniably apt:


Ah, honey, honey

You are my candy girl

And you got me wanting you.’

It’s apt because I’m a sugar addict, a junkie. I need to have it, whether as simple carbohydrates, alcohol, or sweet treats themselves. And I use the seemingly hyperbolic term ‘junkie’ because, as it turns out, it’s not hyperbolic at all! Recent studies on the impact of sugar on our brains suggest that its influence and addictive properties rival that of cocaine.

Speaking of cocaine (and sugar), in Sigmund Freud’s Cocaine Papers from more than a century ago, he had already warned us of the neurological threat that sugar poses. Freud actually suggested that sugar, for him more dangerous than cocaine, was likely responsible for much of the neurosis he discerned in modern social life. He thought sugar was making us all crazy.

But we don’t need to give credence to a coked-up misogynist who never managed to cure any of his patients. Leave neurological issues aside. The physiological damage that sugars do to us is beyond dispute (I use the plural to take into account the fructose and glucose that all of our sugar and carbs and alcohol are broken down into). The readiest example would be their role in catalysing type-II diabetes. And as India has the second-highest number of type-II diabetes patients in the world, and the highest number of pre-diabetes cases, sugars are more than simply an indulgence, and more than an addiction even. They might actually turn out to be an existential threat.

Again, that’s not hyperbolic. Look at the stats. Around 3% of all deaths in India are attributable to diabetes. That’s nearly one million people per year. If you were to compare the figures from deaths attributable to terrorism — it is too minuscule even to bother. And yet, India has spent and continues to spend countless crores, it has altered long-standing legal regimes, abridged citizens’ rights and freedoms, inaugurated a massive surveillance regime, abruptly demonetised its currency, and so much more in order to tackle the security challenge that terrorism ostensibly poses. What has it done, by contrast, to tackle the crisis that diabetes poses — both in terms of preventable deaths as well as its enormous financial burden both on the citizen and the State?

Some will say this is an unfair juxtaposition. One is about the sovereignty and integrity of the nation-state, while the other is a public health issue. Fair enough. Let’s take Covid then. Since it hit India, Covid has caused half as many deaths as diabetes causes in a single year. And again, India has spent countless crores, has altered laws, abridged rights, increased surveillance, and so on. What has it done, in comparison, for the public health crisis of diabetes?

Despite that it is an ‘epidemic’ hardly rivaled, the only national-level strategy or system to treat, to detect, or to prevent diabetes in India is the poorly funded, and even more poorly administered National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS), a motley set of pilot programmes, operating ad hoc and without urgency, innovation or vision, as part of the National Health Mission of the Ministry of Health. Diabetic Indians pay out of pocket five times the entire budget of the NPCDCS for their treatment each year — so something is clearly out of whack.

Shifting perspective from public health to public awareness, the way we blithely gorge ourselves on simple carbohydrates, white rice, white flour, and other fibreless favourites like fruit juices, chips and biscuits, sugar-laden packaged foods, as well as fried foods, excessive sugar in our tea and sweets, alcoholic drinks, sweet cocktails, colas, and so on, is indicative of complete resignation on the part of our public authorities — when it comes to sugar, despite that it costs dearly and eventually kills, liberty seems to reign supreme. The polar opposite to the position on terrorism, Covid, and other priorities. Perhaps when the suffering population rises from 10% to 25% or more, as is soon expected, some strategic resources will finally be allocated to the epidemic.

Until then, we wait, and sing along with the Archies…

Oh, sugar

Pour a little sugar on it, honey

Pour a little sugar on it, baby

Make your life so sweet, yeah, yeah, yeah.

(Aakash Singh Rathore as Dr Jekyll is a Professor of Philosophy, Politics and Law, author and editor of over 20 books and counting, and as Mr Hyde, one of India’s top-ranking Ironman triathletes)

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