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Sweetener Wars

The Sweetener Wars

Sugar and sweetened products play a complex role in American culture and diet: For generations, sugar has been an integral part of personal and social occasions centering on indulgence, celebration, and reward, with patterns established early in life at home (e.g., making cookies with Mom) and socially (e.g., raising money with school bake sales).

Starting in the 1970s, however, a rising sentiment portraying sugar as a “demon” gained momentum, culminating with the rise in popularity of the Atkins and South Beach Diets, both of which “taught” consumers to avoid refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Today, it is not uncommon for the media to be on a sugar high with stories focused on the dozens of pounds of sugar that Americans consume on an annual basis. And, while few studies have definitively linked sugar to obesity, many diverse stakeholders ranging from federal agencies to health authorities to public interest groups agree that changes in lifestyle that include high consumption of sweetened foods and beverages have contributed to what is broadly considered an epidemic of overweight Americans.

Over the years, our own research has borne out the fact that, when consumers are asked what they are doing to improve their health and wellness, a common refrain is “I’m watching my sugar intake.”

How Americans “manage” sweetness is becoming increasingly a divided issue whereby on one hand consumers view sweetened products as an important part of their lifestyle while on the other hand they view it as a potential threat to their health.

Under pressure from a variety of stakeholders, including government, consumers, and public interest groups, food and beverage manufacturers have  responded to what amounts to be a societal focus on sugar and, in addition to launching hundreds of reduced sugar and sugar substitute products, and have also been seeking new ways to alter consumer perceptions of sugar.

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