Robert Lustig

fat chance

Robert H. Lustig is an American pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) where he is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics. He practices in the field of neuroendocrinology, with an emphasis on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system. He also has a special interest in childhood obesity.

Lustig came to public attention through his efforts to establish that fructose can have serious deleterious effects on human (especially children’s) health if consumed excessively. In 2009, he delivered a lecture called ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth’ that spread virally on YouTube, in which he calls fructose a ‘poison’ and equates its metabolic effects with those of ethanol.

Lustig grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He obtained a bachelors degree from MIT (1976) and an M.D. degree from Cornell University Medical College (1980). He then spent six years as a research associate in neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University. He completed a pediatric residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and his clinical fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at UCSF where he joined the teaching staff in 1984. In 2013, Lustig received a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree from UC Hastings College of the Law. Lustig has authored over 85 research articles and 45 book chapters. He is a former chairman of the Obesity Task Force of the Pediatric Endocrine Society, a member of the Obesity Task force of The Endocrine Society, and on the Steering Committee of the International Endocrine Alliance to Combat Obesity.

One controversial issue surrounding fructose consumption is its role in blocking satiety. Lustig’s research suggests that fructose consumption reduces satiety leading to over-consumption. Trials that focus on isocaloric diets and on light fructose consumption do not address the issue of satiety and over-consumption. In athletes requiring sugar to meet their caloric needs, fructose may enhance exercise performance by stimulating nutrient absorption and energy metabolism. One scientific study reports that the combination of medical disorders known as metabolic syndrome (syndrome X) results mainly from excessive caloric intake and that fructose should not be singled out as a particular villain. In fact, small ‘catalytic’ doses of fructose may improve control of blood glucose. Further, fructose is the normal, natural monosaccharide sugar present in sweet-tasting plant foods.

In 2013, Lustig was called upon as an expert witness on behalf of a plaintiff in Buffalo, New York, who claimed her obesity was the result of high-fructose corn syrup in foods. ‘Forbes’ magazine cited Lustig for his inconsistent statements on sugar and HFCS: ‘Dr. Lustig’s past writings also inconveniently reflect his scientific opinion that HFCS ‘and sucrose are, for all intents and purposes, biochemically and metabolically equivalent.” The article goes on to vilify the plaintiff’s case, but does not seek comment from the plaintiff apart from quotations from Lustig’s book. Lustig has made this comparison other times previously. However, he argues that the characteristics of processed foods, namely the addition of sugar and the removal of dietary fiber, are two of the main culprits in a global obesity epidemic.

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