The food industry is facing a backlash against high sugar content on the same scale as the one experienced by the tobacco industry following studies showing a link between smoking and lung cancer, experts are warning.
With growing public awareness of the debate surrounding sugar, obesity and diabetes, "a structural decline in sugar consumption" is on its way, according to a recent report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute.
Sales of cigarettes in the developed world have been in steady decline since the 1970s, after the link between smoking and diseases like lung cancer and emphysema was proven. The industry was also hit by a round of lawsuits, which resulted in four major tobacco industry players agreeing to pay out $365.5 billion to settle claims over health issues caused by smoking cigarettes. Allegations that the industry was aware of the link between lung cancer and smoking as early as the 1950s were key to the cases.
At the beginning of the obesity epidemic, it was received wisdom that lowering fat and calorie consumption would shrink waistlines. Yet as the number of low-fat products on the market has risen, so have obesity rates - worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
With the rise of obesity comes increased rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a raft of other health problems, which in turn makes treating patients more expensive for governments and insurers, according to the WHO.
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Scientists are still divided over the true causes of obesity, but the view that it is partly caused by high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is present in the majority of foods produced in the developed world, is gaining traction. HFCS is a cheap form of corn syrup used in most processed foods, cereals, and soft drinks, which gained popularity after the price of imported sugar increased in the U.S. during the 1970s.
Alarm bells have been ringing in the scientific community for years over the widespread use of HFCS, led by Dr Robert Lustig, who specialises in treating obese children and has written a book called Fat Chance about obesity.
(Read more: Obesity officially becomes a disease)
Lustig's talk: Sugar: The Bitter Truth has had nearly 4 million views on YouTube. In it, he argues that fructose is a "poison" which helps the body retain fat and is partly responsible for the obesity epidemic.
Fructose essentially delays the feeling of being full by suppressing the action of a hormone called leptin, which leads to further food consumption, according to Lustig's studies.
"It makes your brain think you're starving and now what you have is a vicious cycle of consumption, disease and addiction," Lustig said.