147: Sugar Rush with Dr. Karen Throsby

This episode continues our conversation on the topic of children and food.  A few months ago we heard from Dr. Lindo Bacon about how the things we’ve learned about obesity might not actually be the whole story.  Then we talked with Ellyn Satter about the approach she devised called Division of Responsibility, which holds the parent/caregiver responsible for the what, when, and where of eating and the child responsible for whether and how much.


We followed that with a conversation with Dr. Michael Goran, a world-renowned expert on the impact of sugar on our bodies, and specifically on children’s bodies – and co-author of the book SugarProof.  While the research seems to indicate that consuming large amounts of sugar isn’t necessarily the best thing for us, when I dug into the original papers that form the backbone of SugarProof I found that the results didn’t always seem to be quite as large as the book indicated.


In this episode we take another look at sugar – this time from the perspective of sociologist Dr. Karen Throsby.  Dr. Thorsby received her BA in English Language and Literature from Lincoln College, Oxford, and a MSc in Gender and later a Ph.D from the London School of Economics.  She is currently  an Associate Professor in Gender Studies at the University of Leeds, and is writing a book entitled Sugar Rush: Science, Obesity, and the Social Life of Sugar.  For the book, she is analyzing over 500 UK newspaper articles about sugar, as well as policy documents, scientific publications, popular science articles, self-help literature, and documentaries.  She wants to understand what happens when we demonize sugar as ‘public enemy number one,’ and along with it the fat body.  She doesn’t aim to determine the ‘truth’ about sugar or offer prescriptions about what people should eat, but instead think about how this debate relates to how scientific knowledge is produced, validated, and appropriated, panics about health and body size, the role of generation, gender, race, and class, and the lived inequalities associated with food.


Jump to highlights:

(02:10) Introducing Dr. Throsby

(03:22) One of your big focuses is on the idea of sugar being addictive.  Can you tell us why you start there?  What does it mean to be addicted to something, and can we be addicted to sugar?

(09:46) We have to be really careful with any attempt to define addiction because some people and certain groups of people are seen as more liable to be seduced by sugar than others

(12:18) The neuroscientific model of addiction recognizes that addiction is more than a failure of will and morals but also factors in biological vulnerability which can affect some people more than others

(15:10) The idea that you could stop consuming sugar if you wanted to is part of the problem in the way that sugar is being figured because it ignores the social context within which consumption occurs

(21:18) The reason the book is called Sugar Rush is obviously it’s a play on the idea of having a lot of sugar, but also about the rush to blame sugar

(22:04) Sugar is often referred to as empty calories but actually, it’s a category of food that is absolutely laden with meaning that I think is really important


Other episodes mentioned in this episode:




Resource Links:


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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