Amsterdam knows its way around drug legislation. When Amsterdam’s health service tells us that something is highly addictive and should be regulated, that information carries weight. In this case, we are talking about a substance that likely has more addicts in more age groups than any other; Sugar.
Paul van der Velpen, head of Amsterdam’s health service, said “Sugar is actually a form of addiction. It’s just as hard to get rid of the urge for sweet foods as of smoking” on a government website. He believes that sugar should carry the same regulations and warnings as tobacco and alcohol. Indeed, the comparison stands up. Statistics released by the UK Department of Health show that obesity rates actually overtake smoking rates:

  • 21.2% of adults were addicted to tobacco products in a 2009 study, where 23% of adults are currently obese (BMI over 30).
  • 15% of 15 year olds are smokers, but 23% of children 4-5 years old are considered obese.
  • A stunning 61.3% of adults are either overweight or obese.

View the statistics and associated policies here, and here. Many nations worldwide have taken action to reduce tobacco use in their citizens, but few have even begun to talk about regulating sugar. Van der Velpen says “sugar is the most dangerous drug of the times and can still be easily acquired everywhere.” While Amsterdam has a global reputation for its tolerance of recreational drugs, the obesity rate has more than doubled over the past three decades. Sugar is much more widely available to the public than anycoffee house marijuana, and delivers a much heavier cost to the people.


The effects of sugar are well documented. The blood sugar spikes associated with consumption can mimic physical and emotional highs, followed by steep crashes and cravings for more. “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,” says Van der Velpen.

Other side effects of sugar overindulgence include mood swings, headaches, and fatigue. Prolonged use of sugar is a leading cause of obesity and is linked to adult onset diabetes. Some researchers have linked sugar consumption to depression, anti-social behaviour, and other mental disorders. With this in mind, Amsterdam may be leading the charge against sweets. Van der Velpen is suggesting legal limits in processed food, taxes, and health warnings on packaging similar to those on cigarettes.

“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,” he suggests. If you are battling a sugar addiction of your own, WebMD has a few suggestions for you:

  • Eat a little bit to curb your craving, but try to stay within 150 sugar-based calories daily.
  • Pair your indulgence with a healthy choice, to feel full faster.
  • Cut sugar out entirely, if you can. The first 48-72 hours are reportedly just as difficult as quitting nicotine, but cravings drop significantly afterward.