On May 26, 2009, Robert Lustig gave a lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which was posted on YouTube the following July. Since then, it has been viewed well over 800,000 times, gaining new viewers at a rate of about 50,000 per month, fairly remarkable numbers for a 90-minute discussion of the nuances of fructose biochemistry and human physiology.
Lustig is a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, which is one of the best medical schools in the country. He published his first paper on childhood obesity a dozen years ago, and he has been treating patients and doing research on the disorder ever since.
The viral success of his lecture, though, has little to do with Lustig’s impressive credentials and far more with the persuasive case he makes that sugar is a “toxin” or a “poison,” terms he uses together 13 times through the course of the lecture, in addition to the five references to sugar as merely “evil.” And by “sugar,” Lustig means not only the white granulated stuff that we put in coffee and sprinkle on cereal — technically known as sucrose — but also high-fructose corn syrup, which has already become without Lustig’s help what he calls “the most demonized additive known to man.”
It doesn’t hurt Lustig’s cause that he is a compelling public speaker.
Maui News staff writer Harry Eagar’s Nov. 15 column expressed unfounded opinions that trivialized a serious community issue. Sewage disposal is no laughing matter. It is a quality of life issue for all who live on Maui, our visitor industry and those voiceless ones who inhabit Maui’s waters.
Concerns about the connection between effluent disposal, water quality and reef decline are shared by scientists and environmental professionals tasked with safeguarding water and natural resources. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources (hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/pubs/MauiReefDeclines.pdf) identified land-based pollutants as part of the problem causing coal decline. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Maui County to characterize the pollutants in the effluent and to identify where the effluent goes after injection. The state Department of Health has declared coastal waters near the wells as impaired due to presence of nutrients and other pollutants (hawaii.gov/health/environmental/env-planning/wqm/2006_Integrated_Report/2006_Chapter_IV_Assessment_of_Waters.pdf).
There is substantial evidence that the effluents injected into the groundwater at county treatment plants is reaching the ocean. The presence of effluent indicators in ocean water was found by the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Geological Survey. There is no scientific evidence supporting Eagar’s assertion that coral not only eat sewage, but love it.
Welcome to Fixes.
This is a series about solutions, or potential solutions, to real world problems. It focuses on the line between failure and success, drawing on the stories of people who have crossed it.
Most of us tend to be better informed about problems than solutions. This presents two challenges: if we rarely hear about success when it occurs, it’s hard to believe that problems can, in fact, be solved. Also, knowledge about how to solve problems ends up being concentrated in too few hands. It needs to circulate more broadly so that it can be applied where needed.