Paul van der Velpen, the head of Amsterdam’s health service, the Dutch capital city where the sale of cannabis is legalised, wants to see sugar tightly regulated.
“Just like alcohol and tobacco, sugar is actually a drug. There is an important role for government. The use of sugar should be discouraged. And users should be made aware of the dangers,” he wrote on an official public health website.
“This may seem exaggerated and far-fetched, but sugar is the most dangerous drug of the times and can still be easily acquired everywhere.”
Mr Van der Velpen cites research claiming that sugar, unlike fat or other foods, interferes with the body’s appetite creating an insatiable desire to carry on eating, an effect he accuses the food industry of using to increase consumption of their products.
“Sugar upsets that mechanism. Whoever uses sugar wants more and more, even when they are no longer hungry. Give someone eggs and he’ll stop eating at any given time. Give him cookies and he eats on even though his stomach is painful,” he argued.
“Sugar is actually a form of addiction. It’s just as hard to get rid of the urge for sweet foods as of smoking. Thereby diets only work temporarily. Addiction therapy is better.”
The senior health official wants to see sugar taxes and legal limits set on the amount that can be added to processed food.
He also wants cigarette-style warnings on sweets and soft drinks telling consumers that “sugar is addictive and bad for the health”.
“Health insurers should have to finance addiction therapy for their obese clients. Schools would no longer be allowed to sell sweets and soft drinks. Producers of sports drinks that are bursting with sugar should be sued over misleading advertising and so on,” he said.
The number of obese people in the Netherlands has doubled over the last two decades meaning that more than half of Dutch adults and one in seven children are overweight in a country famed for its deep fried croquettes.