Food and Behaviour Research

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10 July 2014 - Sugar, Fat, Food and Addiction: New Approaches to the Public Health Crisis

Is sugar addictive, and toxic in excess?ORGANISED BY FOOD AND BEHAVIOUR RESEARCH

Start Date: 10 July 2014

End Date: 10 July 2014

Duration 9.15 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Location 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE

Venue The Royal College of Surgeons

File Download:

Programme (913.95 KB)


FAB Research was extremely proud to offer this opportunity to hear from our highly distinguished panel of international researchers and expert practitioners, who presented and discussed potential new approaches to the growing public health crisis, focused on the latest evidence linking food and diet with behaviour.

Our central theme was the controversial issue of whether some nutrients, foods or dietary patterns may actually promote (or reduce) ‘addictive’ behaviours.  Sugar has recently come under the spotlight in this respect, although the scientific evidence in this area, and its implications, still remain hotly debated. 

Related topics under discussion included obesity and other eating disorders, alcoholism and other substance use disorders, antisocial behaviour, and other mental health conditions in which impulsivity and poor self-control play a key role, such as ADHD.

Presentations and discussions were focused on both the latest scientific evidence and its broader implications for policymakers, professionals, food industry representatives and the general public.


Mental health disorders have overtaken physical health disorders in their contribution to the burden of ill health in the UK and other developed countries – and that burden is even greater if the full costs of ‘substance use disorders’ are included.

Current policies have not been working to reverse these damaging trends. ‘Non-communicable diseases’ (physical and mental) are overwhelming public health services and undermining the efficiency of workers in both public and private enterprise, as well as placing huge personal burdens on affected individuals and their families.

Nutrition and diet affect the brain as well as the body.  Despite this fact, most health professionals and policymakers let alone those working in education, social services, criminal justice and allied areas receive little or no education or training in this crucial area.

‘Sugar’ and ‘fat’ are the two most hotly debated aspects of diet – but probably also the most misunderstood. This conference provided an update on the evidence discussed at two FAB Research meetings last year, viz: 
(1) Sugar, Fat and the Public Health Crisis, and
(2) Sugar and the Brain: Food Choice, Addiction and the Mental Health Crisis.  

Both featured US obesity expert Professor Robert Lustig, whose work has helped put sugar in the spotlight.  We were delighted that he joined us again, this time along with Professor Graham MacGregor (Chair of the UK Campaign group ‘Action on Sugar’), Captain Joe Hibbeln (one of the world’s leading experts on dietary fats and mental health), and a panel of other leading researchers, professionals and public health authorities.

Topics for discussion included:

  • Why have rates of obesity and related health conditions risen so dramatically in recent years – and what will happen if current trends continue?  Has ‘healthy eating’ advice inadvertently been making matters worse? 
  • Which dietary fats have actually been shown to be harmful – and which ones are absolutely essential for both physical and mental health, wellbeing and performance?
  • Are all calories really the same, or do their effects depend on what foods (or drinks) provide them?
  • Is sugar really ‘addictive’ in any meaningful sense - and if so, what can we do about it?  More generally, can eating disorders validly be compared with ‘substance use disorders’? 
  • What’s the evidence that food and diet can contribute to other conditions linked with poor ‘impulse control’ – such as ADHD, antisocial behaviour, and many other mental health disorders?  And can nutritional interventions help in their management?
  • Most people fail to follow current dietary guidelines.  Does that mean that these need revising, and/or how can compliance best be improved: - via public health policy, private enterprise or personal responsibility? 

Speakers included:

  • Professor Simon Capewell - Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool
  • Dr Bernard Gesch - Senior Research Scientist, University of Oxford
  • Professor Jason Halford - Reader in Appetite and Obesity, Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool
  • Captain Joseph Hibbeln MD - Acting Chief, Section of Nutritional Neurosciences, Inst. Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH Washington
  • Professor Robert Lustig MD - Professor of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco
  • Professor Graham MacGregor - Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, The Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, London; and Chairman of ‘Action on Sugar’
  • Dr Alex Richardson - Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford; Founder Director of FAB Research
  • Mr Kevin Williamson - Senior Nutritionist, Early Intervention in Psychosis Services, Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust
An essential event for:

Public Health Policy Specialists, GPs and Paediatricians, Registered Dieticians and Nutritionists, Nutritional Therapists, Community Health Specialists, Dentists, Teachers and Educators, School Food Providers, Researchers from Academia and Industry, Food Manufacturers and Marketers, Charities, Support Groups, and Voluntary Organisations


Recommended reading:  Fat Chance, by Professor Robert Lustig MD