Diet Doctor COO, Bjarte Bakke, is always quick to point out to coworkers how superior his native Norway is to Sweden, home to Diet Doctor’s headquarters. Most the time, the Swedes in the office just roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, yeah, we know Bjarte. Norway is amazing and wins more Olympic medals than Sweden (yawn).”

But now the Swedes need to sit up and take notice. A new article in The Guardian reports that Norway has cut annual per capita sugar intake to the lowest levels in 44 years, falling from 95 pounds (43 kilos) per person in 2000 to just 53 pounds (24 kilos) per person in 2018.

The Guardian: Sweet spot: Norwegians cut sugar intake to lowest level in 44 years

How did they do it? Is it all because of Bjarte and his role in Diet Doctor? Not exactly….

Norway has had a general tax on sugar since 1922, but more recently, it created separate taxes for candies and sugary drinks, likely contributing to the country’s success. They also initiated a public health campaign with limits on advertising sugary products.

As we discussed in another recent news post, limiting sugary drinks at work lowers consumption and improves peoples’ health. Now, Norway shows that taxes and regulations on advertising as part of a public health campaign also works to cut consumption.

Other countries have not fared as well, as the Guardian reports that sugar consumption in the UK has increased by almost 3% between 2015 and 2018. Why the difference? It is hard to know, but hopefully the UK and other countries (the US included!) will take note.

It seems as if limiting sugar consumption should be a “no-brainer” for improving our health, but where do we stop? That is a more complex, slippery-slope question. Norway is now looking into a “health-based fee” to tax nutrient-poor, highly processed foods. Again, it sounds great in theory. We just have to constantly ask where we draw the line between a “nanny state” where everything citizens eat is regulated, and a country’s more modest attempts to improve citizen’s health.

We don’t have an easy answer for that, but personally, I am encouraged to see attempts focused at reducing sugary, highly processed foods. Let’s focus more on whole foods, from animals and from plants, and watch as our chronic disease epidemics melt away.

Thanks for reading,
Bret Scher, MD FACC

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