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Sugar is evil

Written By: - Date published: 9:18 am, March 6th, 2021 - 20 comments
Categories: child welfare, Dirty Politics, education, food, health, schools - Tags:

This post will involve an interesting segway.

First of all sugar is evil.  It is fine in small amounts but the corporates have worked out that it helps sell their products.  They have spent a few decades working out the optimal amount of sugar in what they make.

Dear reader the optimal amount is not the amount that is best for you, it is the amount that will make their product most attractive to you before it descends into too sweet territory.  Sales not health are the goal.

And corporations are not interested in long term effects.  They are only interested in the here and now, what will sell their product and improve their bottom line.  The repercussions are for society to take care of.

Just check any label of any food that you buy.  Gatorade, sauces, curries, drinks, cereals, so called health bars they are all jammed with as much sugar as they can realistically handle.

Can I recommend you watch That Sugar Film, where a healthy male maxes out the amount of sugar he consumes even though he is eating “healthy” food.  The effect on his body during the test is incredible.  Thanks to the miracle of Youtube the film can be seen here.

This segways into the Dirty Politics trial this week where Carrick Graham provided a grovelling apology to three medical researchers who had been warning us for some time about the evils of too much sugar, fast foods and alcohol.  The consequences are clear, we have appalling rates of obesity and diabetes, and in particular there is clear evidence that too much sugar has adverse effects on behaviour and learning of young people and children.

Simon Wilson has this outstanding review of the Graham trial and asks some very pertinent questions:

Why hasn’t the Government banned sugary drinks in schools? And how come KFC is able to promote its chicken as the perfect food for every occasion you could possibly think of?

The evidence for the addictive qualities of soft drinks and fatty foods is now widely accepted, as is the evidence for the harm they do. Just one statistic: a thousand people a year in this country have a foot or leg amputated because of type 2 diabetes: a disease caused by an excess of sugary and fatty foods.

Isn’t this – a major public health issue, especially among poor and vulnerable communities – exactly the sort of cause that motivates centre-left MPs to seek power in the first place?

So why no action? The answer is a mystery. But food and public health occupy an extremely unsavoury place in the political world and just this week we were reminded about the how and why.

He then reviews the evidence that came out of the case and notes that the Court was advised that over a five year period Graham’s PR company paid Whale Oil $124,000 and the Food and Grocery Council, for its part, paid Graham’s company $365,619.

In the book Dirty Politics Nicky Hager provides a lot of background and provides details of the relationship between Graham, the FGC and some of its members.  He also revealed the contents of emails from Graham to Slater in which he referred to “KR hits”.  He said “KR” was former National MP Katherine Rich who for some time has been the head of the FGC.  The FGC has denied any involvement.

Wilson’s conclusion is compelling:

This scandal has barely dented the FGC and, despite the opprobrium it generated, Rich has remained in her job.

There’s a reason for that: she’s very good at it. The FGC under Rich has managed to persuade successive governments, including the current one, to stay away from taxing or regulating harmful foods and beverages.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. We know that sugary and fatty foods are bad for us. We know we’re facing an obesity epidemic: worldwide, obesity has tripled since 1975, and New Zealand is as caught up in it as any country.

Sooner or later, it is surely obvious, we will decide to treat addictive junk foods the way we now treat tobacco.

Banning sugary drinks from School should be an easy and a quick start.  But this will take some political will.  The companies involved will not take this lying down.  They will throw all sorts of PR forces against it, and talk about “Cancel Culture” and “Nanny State”.  Judging by what appears to have happened here social media and blogs will also be used.  But there is no better time than the present to address this.

The policy will be very popular with Labour members and has been the subject of numerous policy remits in the past.

The Party’s 2019 policy platform said this:

We will act on major causes of poor health such as child poverty, poor housing, and economic inequality through bold policy initiatives across economic and social policy areas. People living in warm and dry housing, with enough income to afford a healthy diet, and access to good public services will have fewer health issues. We will focus on the health and well-being of children and young people, putting them at the centre of our efforts across the whole spectrum of policy.

And this:

Labour will encourage and assist every New Zealander to take responsibility, in partnership with health providers, for healthy living, including healthy accommodation and good nutrition. Through a holistic approach to public health, we can address chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The 2020 manifesto was not so directed with the only reference to diet being a policy to expand the Free and Healthy School Lunch programme to cover 200,000 students in 2021.

The policy ought to be easy to implement.  Direct school boards of trustees to stop the sale of sugary drinks in schools.  They should then work on a sugar tax.

The basic problem is the total commercialisation of our food supply.  The demand for profit has perfected the creation of food that is frankly too often not fit for consumption.  We can and must do better.

20 comments on “Sugar is evil ”

  1. Reality 1

    It was satisfying to see on Thursday's TV1 news an item on Carrick Graham's apology. He should be feeling totally ashamed of his actions towards the complainants and hopefully his personal and business ethics improve vastly. Is his PR company still operating?

  2. RedBaronCV 2

    While I agree with every point made about the health effects of sugar – nooo to any outright banning type answer. This is the "light bulb and shower head " do-gooding solution that tends to get up the noses of even people who rarely buy the stuff. Most households have a bottle in the fridge according to my family , we were one of the few that didn't.

    IMHO there needs to be a more subtle approach. Maybe a start on the maximum sugar levels per litre per kg – I believe it has worked to some extent overseas – with a tax on excess levels so it doesn't get killed by the next government. Maybe a dial back on certain forms of marketing. The amount of supermarket aisle shelf devoted to some of this product while there is rarely any crush of people around them suggests to me that any point of sale incentives/promotions should be canned or taxed. There should be no point of sale promo's in schools and if the school has food contracted out then low visibility should be part of the contract. Possibly for schools develop a "local" alternative – nothing like a bit of local pride. In short a modified version of the alcohol and cigarette visibility approach because we want to lower sugar not ban outright.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      yes

      I agree with the 'more subtle' approach. Personal choice around what we eat is absolutely the last territory any government needs to been seen meddling with.

      In addition to everything you said, it's the 'hidden sugar' in our food that I'd like to be made much more visible. Personally we avoid all the obvious sources of sugar (we have none in the house and never add it to anything) – but the OP makes a good point that too many products have it added in.

      Our basic biology is highly attracted to complex flavours because these often signaled to our brains that this was highly nutritious food or had some essential components. We're wired for a diversity of food sources, on the converse if we're made to eat the same food day in and day out for weeks, no matter how nice it is initially, we develop a very strong aversion to it.

      The food industry to date has exploited this basic biology by building foods that overlay mixes of salts, sugars and fats to cheaply and crudely emulate a 'complex' food. And in turn our biology responds by buying the stuff. If we simply regulated them to stop doing this, and the foods on our supermarket shelves became bland and unappealing – this would be rejected by virtually everyone.

      The right approach must be to encourage (by a process of education, investment and policy) the industry to move beyond the crude emulations of complexity they've used to date, and to evolve authentically complex flavours and foods that go beyond sugars and fats to create their appeal.

      • mickysavage 2.1.1

        The trouble is this approach is not working and industry has the scales well and truly skewered in their favour.

        • RedLogix 2.1.1.1

          The last thing this govt needs, especially after a year of intensive COVID interventions, is another bloody 'light bulb' moment; and if anything the meddling with the our food choices is far too personal for any govt to risk to be seen 'banning' things.

          This must be framed as 'expanding the opportunity to improve' food choices and affordability. Much harder work I know …

        • RedBaronCV 2.1.1.2

          Except people hear "we know what's best for you" so we will ban it. At best it sounds pretty controlling at worst it comes over as terribly patronising – as in" you are too dumb to make decent choices for yourself". Plus if teenagers are involved – when did they ever do what the older crowd think is a good idea.

          Be clear – are we trying to ban say the drinks (like tobacco) or just reduce the sugar in them. I'm picking the latter so maybe use nudges like "sugar tax" with a falling cap – so it doesn't actually get paid, maybe falling caps or no tax deductibility on point of sale stocking and incentives, advertising reductions, annual bonus to schools who sell very little- some thing healthy of course. There must be heaps of others. Sugar in food may not be quite such an issue as there is a lower limit on how much can be eaten and a generally higher price. Lining up on the producers will be more effective in the long run and if they all have the same restrictions then they may play ball a little better.

          Ban it from schools and the nearest dairy will be sending daily thanks your way.

          Also check out with your nearest middle class crowd in the office or at a meeting to see how many routinely have fizzy drinks in the fridge. Our house hold was one of only about two in the school crowd who didn't stock it as a matter of course. A 10++ school.

          And lastly don't forget that for some people who may not have much money a treat may be choosing chips or something like that from one outlet rather than another. Why should we limit or disrespect the limited pleasures or choices of others. Not sure I have that sounding quite right
          And don’t forget that from a health perspective we treat many who overindulge in business lunches but that doesn’t seem to attract the same odium.

  3. Grafton Gully 3

    Free up public land for community gardens and allotments, incentivise fruit and vegetable growing closer to consumers by allowing berm sales of excess produce.

    Mandatory "garden to table" programmes in all schools with all schools supported to plant, tend and harvest an orchard and vegetable garden.

    One healthy meal a day in all schools prepared and cooked on site.

    Public TV series (remember "Gliding On" ?) with themes like kicking the sugar and junk food habit and getting into fruit and vege gardening.

    • Sacha 3.1

      Mandatory "garden to table" programmes in all schools with all schools supported to plant, tend and harvest an orchard and vegetable garden.

      This.

  4. Richard Mayson 4

    The booze industry has both main political parties and ACT firmly in their grasp by donations/lobbying and this sugar issue though more hidden will likely be the case for the food industry. The USA is the most obscene case of big corporates and money buying politician/parties but its not alone.It happens here in Aotearoa NZ

  5. Ad 5

    Let's put it to a referendum.

    Then a coalition deal.

    Then a conscience vote.

  6. Bruce 6

    Thankfully they keep us safe from the scourge of cannabis ….

  7. Dawn Trenberth 7

    I now assume all processed food is bad for me and try to make my own food from scratch as much as possible. This is what it has come too. I dont believe the food industry is interested in my well being at all. I wish carrot sticks and celery sticks and apples were marketed to children with the same intensity as junk food. Cooking classes should be a core subject in schools.

  8. EE 8

    Taking the GST of fruit and vegetable would be more carrot than … cane.

  9. Jake 9

    Anyone remember the Min of Health’s Healthy Eating Healthy Attitudes programme in Schools. Scrapped instantly by John Key’s led government. Too nanny state, despite obesity being a major health issue for children.

  10. Stuart Munro 10

    Sugar is important for some domestic uses, like jam or baking, and it is also a pretty cheap ingredient. A tax set high enough to modify behaviour would be an imposition on healthy use. It is more the processed foods that have been engineered for a sugar hit that need regulation, and a progressive reduction in sugar levels would have good long term effects, including a reduction in public sugar craving. (Korea restricted sugar imports in the 1950s for balance of trade reasons, and the long term health benefits are still with them).

    Sugar maxima in prepared products like drinks is an obvious first step. It is not much of an imposition on the manufacturers because they actually save by using less. Dropping maximum sugar levels by 1 or 2% a year for a decade would significantly decrease risks to heavy users, as well as shifting public taste in a healthier direction. Penal tax up to a point and a ban beyond it might be the way to go.

    • Craig H 10.1

      I think sugary and fatty foods could be taxed as an excise tax, and the sale of the sugar itself (and things like cooking lard) could be exempted, or taxed a lower rate than processed/prepared food.

      • Stuart Munro 10.1.1

        Because sugar is quite a cheap ingredient, taxing sugar fractions would have to be quite steep to affect consumer behaviour. Better to penalize non-compliance – and better still to sheet it home to manufacturers and retailers.

  11. NZJester 11

    My understand is that not all sugars are the same.

    While they are all bad for you in large amounts, some are able to be burnt off tiny bit easier with a bit of exercise compared with others. I was told a cup of soda made from cane sugar instead of corn syrup is easier for a child to burn off.

    They use the corn syrup as it is cheaper, maybe we need to look into that side of it as well?

    • Craig H 11.1

      High fructose corn syrup is more of an American problem than here – bottled fizz here usually has cane sugar unless it is imported. Definitely something to consider in any regulations though as there are some differences in how the body metabolises glucose compared to fructose.

  12. weston 12

    I,d hazard a guess that the elephant in the room in this case is that maori and otherwise poor people are the largest consumers of sugary drinks .This fact was evidenced quite humorously a few weeks back by the protestors in a prison asking for "fizzy drinks" as part of their demands !Go to any poor neighborhood and observe the displays outside the shops the proprietors of which know only too well what the bulk of their customers are suckers for !Ithink at the very least health warnings for this coloured muck should be mandatory and attract a decent tax .

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