Creating a sweeter and healthier future

By

Robert Ewing

Added sugar is one of the most common ingredients in the American diet and is featured in most processed foods, fruit drinks, sodas, cookies and candy. But it is also present in foods like ketchup, pasta sauce, bread and packaged meats. The average American consumes 76.7 grams of sugar — or just under half a cup — every day. This amount is double the recommendation of the American Heart Association.

In response to this important public health issue, Arizona State University Department of Psychology alumna Carol May is working to change how Americans approach sweets. May is the chair and CEO of Wisdom Natural Brands, a leading producer of the natural sweetener stevia.

May donated $275,000 to the Department of Psychology as part of her new initiative: The Carol May Reduce Sugar Consumption Research Project.

“This initiative is a large effort that has the potential to extend our understanding of the impact of excess dietary sugars on the body and also to develop more effective prevention techniques to support individual goals for improved health and longer and happier lives,” May said.

The May initiative will fund a research project led by Michelle “Lani” Shiota, associate professor of psychology. Shiota will study how to better reduce the consumption of added sugar among ASU students, faculty and staff.

A high-sugar diet is linked with obesity and diabetes, and contributes to negative heart health. Studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association have also shown that there is an association between a high-sugar diet and an increased risk of dying from heart disease.

“With the May initiative project we aim to encourage healthier dietary choices among members of the ASU community, while also learning more about behavior change techniques that can promote healthy lifestyles,” Shiota said. “Carol’s desire to help improve people’s lives is deeply heartfelt — and infectious! She’s been a national leader in this endeavor, and her support and encouragement give us an opportunity to make a real difference in people’s well-being, here at ASU and beyond.”

Beyond sugar: Thinking about the future

May’s generous contribution was honored with the naming of the “Carol A. May, Wisdom Natural Brand Conference Room.” Her passion for the health and futures of ASU students made the room a natural fit in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Armstrong Futures Center, which was designed to prepare students for life after graduation by offering resources like practice interviews, resume advice and career workshops.

“I’m so grateful to be honored by this privilege of having my name attached to this immense opportunity to do good for thousands of people,” May said. “This isn’t just the headquarters of The College, this is the beginning of futures. With over 25,000 students right now in The College, the futures of countless people will be blessed by the contributions of those students.”

May, who was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Arizona by AZ Business Magazine, added that she is proud to promote the role of the Department of Psychology in career-focused innovation at ASU. And, says Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology, “the Department is thrilled to be working with Carol. Her passion for improving public health, and for the well-being and long-term success of our psychology students, is inspirational. Her engagement embodies our Psych for Life initiative, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

Related: Psych for Life initiative illustrates myriad ways ASU psychology degree translates into career success