Perspective: A Historical and Scientific Perspective of Sugar and Its Relation with Obesity and Diabetes

Adv Nutr. 2017 May 15;8(3):412-422. doi: 10.3945/an.116.014654. Print 2017 May.


Fructose-containing added sugars, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, have been experimentally, epidemiologically, and clinically shown to be involved in the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Here we track this history of intake of sugar as it relates to these epidemics. Key experimental studies that have identified mechanisms by which fructose causes obesity and diabetes are reviewed, as well as the evidence that the uricase mutation that occurred in the mid-Miocene in ancestral humans acted as a "thrifty gene" that increases our susceptibility for fructose-associated obesity today. We briefly review recent evidence that obesity can also be induced by nondietary sources of fructose, such as from the metabolism of glucose (from high-glycemic carbohydrates) through the polyol pathway. These studies suggest that fructose-induced obesity is driven by engagement of a "fat switch" and provide novel insights into new approaches for the prevention and treatment of these important diseases.

Keywords: added sugar; diabetes; metabolic syndrome; obesity; sucrose; thrifty gene; uric acid; fructose.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Sugars / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Sugars / metabolism
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Flavoring Agents / adverse effects
  • Fructose / adverse effects*
  • Fructose / metabolism
  • Glucose / adverse effects*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Sucrose / adverse effects*
  • Sucrose / metabolism
  • Urate Oxidase / genetics


  • Dietary Sugars
  • Flavoring Agents
  • Fructose
  • Sucrose
  • Urate Oxidase
  • Glucose