“I’d be very happy if everybody ate four pounds of sugar a year. They eat a hundred pounds!” exclaimed Doctor John Yudkin around the mid-20th century. But for an average American in the 21st century, that amount has spiked to a staggering 152 pounds per year. In the 2019-20 season alone, 171.5 million metric tons of sugar were consumed worldwide — that’s 30 times as heavy as The Great Pyramid of Giza.
While Princeton is educating every single one of its incoming first-years on safe alcohol-consuming habits through AlcoholEdu and safe relationship practices through Not Anymore!, no such resources exist for sugar consumption. And yes, even I admit that it sounds bizarre for students to be educated about a seemingly harmless ingredient that makes everything taste so delicious.
But ought there be a sugar equivalent of AlcoholEdu? Yes — the lone fact that sugar activates the same reward section in the brain as nicotine, cocaine, and sex, and therefore can be as addictive, give cause to treat sugar with more caution.
In That Sugar Film, Damon Gameau conducted an experiment on himself to discover the danger that sugar poses to the body. For two consecutive months, Gameau consumed 40 teaspoons — approximately 200 grams — of sugar per day while maintaining the amount of exercise as a control variable. The source of the sugar he consumed was neither candy nor junk food but rather hidden sugar in foods that are commonly perceived as “healthy foods,'' such as low-fat flavored yogurts, fruit juice, breakfast cereals, etc. Within the span of 18 days, Gameau’s normal, healthy liver became a fatty liver — an immediate red flag, as too much fat accumulating on the liver can lead to eventual liver failure. Throughout the remainder of his experiment, Gameau was affected both physically and mentally, which overall negatively impacted his health.
What Gameau did on purpose, most people are doing inadvertently. And this gradual self-inflicted destruction of one’s health is particularly dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically for the Princeton students who have returned to campus this spring semester while being unvaccinated, stress may add another layer to the burden on health. Beyond preventative public health measures and vaccination, one of the best ways to combat COVID-19 complications is an individual’s own immune system. However, excessive consumption of sugar weakens the immune system by compromising it for hours, thereby potentially increasing an individual’s susceptibility to COVID-19.
As a result of attending college in the most sugar-loving country, which leads the world in average individual sugar consumption (126 grams daily), there are many opportunities on campus for students to find sugary foods. To list several major sources in a normal semester: the dining halls’ plentiful dessert options, free food listservs that send out email notifications for leftovers from events, clubs like the Chocolate Club that offer sugary snacks during study breaks, as well as the currently closed Murray Dodge Café with its fresh-baked cookies from 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. daily.
The abundant access to food on campus almost any time, anywhere certainly makes students happy. But only for a short while. After the high, there is a crash, and the resulting fatigue can only be mitigated with the next “sugar injection.” Such fluctuations in mood lead to anxiety and even panic attacks.
Students’ wellness is one of Princeton’s top priorities. The “Undergraduate Advising Ecosystem at Princeton University,” mapping the comprehensive network of support available, was shared with every student upon their entrance into the community. Resources such as the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services also provide consultations for free. Furthermore, registered therapy pets are allowed on campus and in dorms.
However, by allowing so much access to sugar on campus and failing to educate students about the dangers of excessive sugar consumption, the University is unwittingly contributing to sugar-induced anxiety on campus.
The COVID-19 semester on campus is the chance for a change to take place on the administration’s side. I’m not asking the University to actively reduce the amount of sugary snacks offered because Princeton gives its students the freedom to make their own choices regarding sugar just like it does with booze and sex. However, by raising awareness of the dark sides of sugar through training similar in form to AlcoholEdu and Not Anymore!, the University can help students make mindful and safe choices about their sugar-consuming habits.
Kelsey Ji is a first-year from Cambridge, Massachusetts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.