TW: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and food restrictions.
Today, I’m going to talk about the second most dangerous white powder on campus. Unlike the first most dangerous, which is a bit tricky to get unless you have the right friends, this one is everywhere: added sugar. And yes, I know I probably should have done this before Halloween, but I didn’t and you’re just gonna have to be okay with that.
Most events, both student and administration-run, provide some sort of sweet snack to encourage attendance. To the credit of both parties, the incentive works. We have a rule of thumb at Claremont McKenna College: If an event provides boba, you have to show up at least 10 minutes early to have any chance of getting any. And from my own objective — and universally applicable — anecdotal experiences, events that have these incentives are just more successful.
Not to mention the dining halls, stocked with no end of delicious sweet things every meal, every day; or the guest lectures that always seem to include a tempting looking dessert; or the campus stores that sell no end of candy, sweet coffee and milkshakes.
At the 5Cs, we’re constantly surrounded by added sugar. And, like all creatures, we respond to our environments. We eat these sweet treats and we thoroughly enjoy them. We go through our days without even noticing how much sugar we eat, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
One quick caveat — when I say “sugar,” I mean added sugar or sugar substitutes, especially in the context of sugary drinks, unless I explicitly say otherwise. It’d be quite a mouthful to have to say that one every time.
Okay, time for the doom and gloom section. Sugar is one of the biggest causes of the current obesity epidemic and of heart disease, the number one cause of death. Excess sugar consumption can lead to type 2 diabetes and has been shown to increase your chances of getting some cancers by up to 200 percent. Sugar can increase your chances of developing fatty liver disease by 56 percent, can increase your chances of getting kidney disease and can cause you to develop gout. Sugar accelerates your skin’s aging process and decreases your overall immune function, leaving you more vulnerable to disease. And of course sugar, especially in drinks, can rot your teeth.
Beyond your physical health, sugar is dangerous for your brain. High sugar consumption has been linked to cognitive impairments, memory problems and anxiety. In studies, excess sugar consumption has been shown to increase your chances of developing depression by 23 percent. Sugar has been associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes and general cognitive decline.
Okay, so now we all know the extent to which excess sugar is unhealthy. What is less talked about, however, is that sugar is also super addictive.
Studies have shown that sugar can be as addictive as cocaine — we just don’t have the same social stigma around it. In fact, sugar is often portrayed as a “comfort food,” suggesting that turning to it in times of stress or depression can make us feel better. But as bad as your breakup is, developing a sugar addiction isn’t going to help. Go on a run! Spend time with your friends! Call your family!
While sugar addiction increases the likelihood of experiencing negative health effects, there are additional dangers inherent to any addiction. Binge and stress eating are both related to sugar addiction and can be incredibly dangerous. As with any other addictive substance, people who cut sugar experience withdrawal, commonly described as feelings of moodiness, irritability and powerful sugar cravings.
Sugar addiction is a serious issue in the United States and even more so at American colleges. The average American eats more than three times the recommended level of sugar. Sixty-five percent of college students drink sugary beverages every day and only 10 percent of students are attempting to lower their sugar intake.
Okay, but where do we go from here? Do we make sugar illegal? Do we cancel my grandma for mailing me cookies? Well, no, of course not. The problem isn’t that people eat things they like, it’s that we’ve curated an environment that makes it so difficult to not eat a ton of sugar. We should be conscious of how sugar-heavy the environment is at the 5Cs and take steps to help solve it.
As with any addiction, working with a sugar addiction is genuinely really difficult. That said, there are things you can do to make it easier. The American Heart Association gives a few helpful tips for college students — try substituting your soda for water or seltzer water, eat more spiced food to give your meals a non-sugar flavor and cut down on the amount of sugar you put into things when baking.
One that worked really well for me was eating more fruit. The natural sugars in fruit can help satisfy cravings without the negative impacts of excessive added sugars. But as good as quick tips are, they aren’t a substitute for actual therapy — take advantage of Monsour Counseling too!
At the end of the day, there’s only one thing we can tangibly do to make the 5Cs less sugar-centric: Cut back on how much of it we offer at events. Student leaders and administrators, this one’s for you. I get that it’s important for your attendance, but maybe you should prioritize the health of your community members first. And maybe, just maybe, try making your events more interesting so that people will have a reason to go aside from the snacks.
Rowan Gray CM ’26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.