Lalitha Bhagavatheeswaran and Joseph Fitchett: That Sugar Film

TSFAustralian actor, writer and director Damon Gameau was about to become a father. With a little one on the way and the aim of teaching his future child how to lead a healthy lifestyle, Damon embarked on a 60-day experiment to unravel the truth about sugar. However unlike other films on sugar, which have focused on obvious high sugar content items such as soda and desserts, That Sugar Film focuses on foods that are perceived to be healthy. These include for example smoothies, low fat yogurts, cereals and granola bars.

After revealing a shocking statistic that the average western diet contains about 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, almost all of it being hidden, it doesn’t take long for Damon to surpass the 40 teaspoon mark in his new daily diet. Damon worked with a team of medical staff who monitored his health throughout the two months, measuring his weight, blood pressure, and other health metrics.

Despite continuing his regular exercise routine during the experiment, Damon gained 10 cm of fat around his waist, developed mood swings and found it difficult to exercise as the days passed.

These negative health effects of his increase sugar intake come as no surprise. In March of this year the World Health Organization WHO call to reduce sugar intake among adults and children. The new guideline recommends adults and children to reduce their daily free sugar intake to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A reduction to below 5% or roughly 6 teaspoons (25g) a day would provide additional health benefits. The WHO recommendation is based on the analysis of the latest research studies, which have shown that adults who consume less sugar have lower body weight and increasing the amount of sugars in the diet is associated with weight gain.

The new guideline is part of WHO’s continued efforts to prevent NCDs such as Type 2 diabetes worldwide. Furthermore, countries can use the recommendations to formulate their own country specific dietary guidelines and implement public health interventions to reduce sugar consumption.

Unfortunately, the new sugar intake guidelines and recommendations may never fully impact those who are at highest risk. Thus, using film as a tool for health promotion can greatly benefit those who consume more than the daily-recommended amount. That Sugar Film can play a monumental role by informing viewers to make better choices and inspiring them to lead a healthier lifestyle. The film is an eye opener and challenges the notion that the current obesity epidemic is a result of lack of exercise and consumption of fast foods.

GHFFIf you haven’t seen That Sugar Film yet, we invite everyone to join the screening and discussion at the 2015 Global Health Film Festival taking place from October 30-31 2015 in London

Competing interests: None.

lalitha-bhagavatheeswaranLalitha Bhagavatheeswaran is head of Global Health at the Royal Society of Medicine.





Joseph Fitchett is director of the Global Health Film initiative.


  • Julie Baldus

    The SACN report for the government states that carbohydrates (which includes sugar) are neither good nor bad for CVD and that sugar does not affect LDL cholesterol levels. This is the policy for the NHS to follow – if so how can the BMJ like or agree with anything in this film? According to the government sugar is not a problem in the way that many others think it is. if the BMJ and its members think otherwise shouldn’t they say something?

  • lolexplosm

    The BMJ is promoting a seemingly unscientific and profit driven film.

    “I ate “healthy” stuff which had loads of hidden sugars in and became fat and tired.”

    What was the diet?
    Was it balanced? – Probably not if it was low fat and high sugar.
    How many calories were consumed? – This is critical. If it is a calorific excess, he will gain weight regardless. There is no reason to attribute sugar alone to this. Even if he had a high fat low/no sugar diet which some people in this film are advocates (conflict of interest?) of.

    Interestingly you can sign up to see a sample of “post sugar cleanse” recipes. Anything using cleanse, detox, mind and body etc, should be ringing alarm bells. You can also buy the book. This whole thing stinks of marketing profiteering.

    He had “mood swings”. – No control, he was being filmed, it’s one person etc, etc.

    “A reduction to below 5% or roughly 6 teaspoons (25g) a day would provide additional health benefits.”

    This is poor summary. The WHO stated this recommendation may reduce dental carie risk even further and was based on limited evidence. There is no mention of other health benefits such reducing the risk of obesity, CV health etc.

  • lolexplosm

    For years we have been told to limit fat – particularly saturated fats and we have been told to limit sugar. Basically everything in moderation and have a balanced diet.

    This advice has gone ignored and people are blaming everyone but themselves.

  • Slipp Digby

    Encouraging people to reduce their sugar intake by educating them -good.

    Using sensationalist, scientifically weak anecdotal evidence to convince people to make that change – bad.

  • Chris Barclay

    Difficult to comment properly as the film isn’t available yet (at least not to me) but the sugar debate does polarise attitudes. My take? …. sugar (like modern fruit cultivars is a glucose/high fructose combo’) and it is no doubt linked to T2DM. Sugar and other high GI carb’s are around us like never before and they evokes a strong metabolic signal; insulin driven fat storage and suppressed fat release, and insulin resistance. I am with Robert Lustig, John Yudkin, and 150 years ago the fat and fed up undertaker William Banting – high GI carbs are fattening and sucrose is their queen.

  • ian Stewart

    Having seen the film, he consumed the same caloric intake as his diet previous to the film. His diet previous to the film was whole foods such as meats, fruits, avocados etc. very little sugary foods. Like Morgan Spurlock from the “Supersize Me” fame, his wife is educated in nutrition so they ate a balanced diet which suited them.
    He did not eat or drink and perceived high sugar foods such as chocolate, cola, candy etc. It was low fat yoghurts, cereals such as Just Right, meat and salad for lunch with a packet sauce and pasta meals bought from the supermarket as well as muesli bars, fruit juices etc. Foods a person would perceive to be healthier than sweets and obvious sugary foods.
    Until you see the film, it is hard to judge what is or is not based one a persons observation. I can tell you what I saw without opinion, which is written above. My opinion is it opened my eyes to the amount of sugar that is around in many hidden forms: sucrose, fructose and the myriad of corn derived sweetners and unraveled the mystery, to me, of what can cause diabeties and obesity.

  • nzchicago

    According to the New York Times, his caloric intake was exactly the same on the high-sugar diet as on his previous healthy diet.

  • cis

    Who cares what the government says… we know their opinions are the result of strong lobbying.

    And who cares what the NHS say… have you seen most of the nurses these days (even some dietitians are obese!).

    Just try for yourself: I know if I start eating sugar/processed foods, my appetite goes through the roof and my mood is affected. I don’t need anyone to tell me sugar is wrong.
    Sugar will affect CVD risk at the very least via the insulin pathway leading to increased body fat and possibly T2DM. High sugar intake has also been linked to earlier dementia, which is even more worrying.

  • T.N. Srinivasan

    Damon’s self experimentation with careful monitoring by health professionals is courageous his findings have to be confirmed wit randomized controlled experiments with adequate sample size for them to be deemed scientifically valid.