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‘A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down’ – Irony or just pure corruption?

As I walked past a young girl today she caught my eye and gave me one of those genuinely uninhibited smiles that only a 4 or 5-year-old can. A few steps behind her was a woman, likely her mother, who was without question obese, and in each hand she held a soft drink, apparently just purchased from a nearby food outlet. I could not help but lament for the future of the exquisite young girl, for the odds are she too will become obese, perhaps even during her childhood, should her diet contain sugar laden foods and drinks.

We are at the crossroads of a significant health crisis that includes unprecedented rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay, and this point on the road has been arrived at through the actions of a small group representing the sugar industry in the 1960s and 1970s. When the full picture of the choices for this group of people is understood, there will be no doubt that a significant global corruption has been at play, and that literally a crime against humanity (that needed no bullets or bombs) has been perpetrated. The results in many ways are more horrific than a war, and have impacted the health of our society not only for today but also in all likelihood for generations to come.

The statistics on childhood obesity are shocking and should be providing a wake up call to Western society that puts all governments and parents on high alert. In the United States childhood obesity has more than doubled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.[1] In 2012 in the US more than 1/3 of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.[2] As sobering as this is, what is worse for these obese adolescents, is that 80% of them will also be obese as adults[3]. Obesity by its nature opens the door for all manner of illnesses, including of course one of the world’s largest killers, heart disease.

In 2016 we have a situation where not only are obesity rates climbing, but according to media reports in Australia, the Government targets to reduce obesity in children are already being admitted as destined for failure.[4] The New South Wales (NSW) Government had pledged to reduce childhood obesity by 5% over the next decade. In real terms that would have meant 62,000 fewer children with obesity by 2025[5]. While this is indeed a noble pursuit, should it be achieved, before we start patting ourselves on the back, let’s put that in context: in the previous 30 years in NSW childhood obesity has increased more than 100%, and the best we think that we can do in the next decade is to reduce it by 5%!

If childhood obesity has increased by 100%, and 80% of children with obesity will also have it as adults, as a society we have a looming health issue of epidemic proportions. The question is how did that happen? How on earth did childhood obesity increase by 100% in 2 short decades? If Government funding and planning can (at best) only reduce obesity by 5%, how was it that without any policy changes, funding or planning by anyone, obesity has exploded in our children? This is where the story of corruption begins, for the government and health bodies of our society made no plans, but was there another group that did make plans, for their own benefit, that has created this now perfect storm of health crises?

Debate continues in an effort to answer the question of how the explosion of obesity has occurred in our children and focusses on two main areas:

  • A sedentary lifestyle fuelled by television and computers

  • A diet high in sugars

I’m not an exercise physiologist, nor a scientist, nor a medical professional, nor do I have any qualifications in nutrition, but as a clear thinking woman I can’t help but wonder, if a toddler or child was brought up with a majority of healthy food including appropriate amounts of quality proteins, fats, vegetables and fruits, and watched too much TV, would they become obese? Would breakfasts, lunches and dinners of protein and vegetables, and plenty of water for hydration (as opposed to sugar laden soft drinks) result in obesity even if there was too much computer / TV time? It doesn’t seem likely in my book.

It seems more reasonable to propose that something has occurred in our society that has our children eating differently, and that that change in food has created the perfect storm of health crises for our young. If that were the case, what is it that has occurred in the last 30 years to so dramatically change the health of our children?

Reports in the US and Australian media may have found an important clue to answer this question. But before we continue let’s backtrack a little. In the 1960’s and 70’s it was becoming clear that the population of Western countries was becoming more overweight, creating an increased health issue given that such conditions predispose a person to illnesses like coronary heart disease. Governments began initiatives to investigate what was causing such increases and research found that popular processed foods that were high in fat were a contributing factor. This began the “Low fat” phenomenon where processed foods were developed with reduced fat content in an effort to reduce waistline sizes. Butter was replaced with margarine, full fat milk with skim milk, ice cream with low fat yoghurt, and cakes with muesli bars. The strategy was hugely successful with people switching to all manner of low fat foods, thinking this would achieve their goals of a healthy weight. Such was the success of this program that many of today’s generation know low fat foods as normal, and are not even aware of their higher fat predecessors.

Skipping forward nearly 50 years, where statistics say we are a society no lighter, and in fact much heavier, in 2013 the BBC program Catalyst aired a 20minute segment focussed on the impact of sugar on our diets over the last 50 years[6]. Professor Robert Lustig presented the theory that when the move to reduce fat content of processed foods occurred, food companies had to find a way to improve the taste of food, and so sugar (or some version of a sweetener) was chosen to create a tasty, low fat alternative. Foods such as low fat yoghurt were indeed lower in fat, but in many cases had very high content sugars. All manner of sugars were added to foods including maltose, dextrose, and aspartame…. And the king of all cheap sugars was high fructose corn syrup.

Prof. Lustig and many others have done a stellar job in recent years of educating society about the effects of a diet high in sugar and sugar substitutes. Lustig also brought back to the forefront a book called “Pure White and Deadly” written by Prof John Yudkin in 1972.[9] In this book written over 40 years ago, around the same time as the sugar industry was adding sugar in huge amounts to foods, Yudkin prophesied that there was a clear correlation between the consumption of sugar and the rise of heart disease. Despite being discredited by the food industry during his life, he is now known as ‘the man who tried to warn us about sugar’.

As a society we now have the information we need about the effects of a diet high in sugar, but we seem to be largely ignoring it and continue to vote with our wallets, purchasing foods that have an abundance of “added sugar” like soft drinks (between 8 and 10 teaspoons of sugar per can), chocolates and cakes.

Not only are we eating obviously sugary foods, but sugar is added to many everyday foods that are seemingly not sugary foods:

  • Fruit juice – up to a whopping 10 to 12 teaspoons per 500ml

  • Fat free yoghurt – 5 teaspoons of sugar (20g) in a 150g tub

  • Tomato based pasta sauce – 3 teaspoons of sugar per 150g

  • Tomato sauce (ketchup) – 1 teaspoon of sugar per tablespoon of sauce

  • 1 Slice of processed bread – can be as high as 3g or 1 teaspoon sugar

  • Muesli bars – some have 3-5 teaspoons of sugar per 50g!

  • Vitamin water – 8 teaspoons per 600ml

So here we are in 2016, obesity rates are at all time highs, low fat, high sugar processed foods are being consumed either without understanding or disregard of consequences, and potentially a generation (or more) of children are facing a life of ill health. Prof Lustig [12], the World Health Organisation[8], the UK National Health Service[7] and many other respected medical professionals tell us the amount of sugar in our diets is a significant contributor and for me, likely culprit for our dire circumstance.

So if 50 years ago, obesity rates were half what they are now, is added sugar in processed foods the culprit for all our woes? The release of the Disney film Mary Poppins in the mid 1960’s gave us the song “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down”, the idea being that anything in life that is a little bit difficult, such as taking medicine, is better with sugar. So if you are going to the Doctor, have a lollipop for being brave, or if you are having a bad day, come home and have some ice cream or chocolates. Sugar consumption for the average American has increased more than 30% in the last 30 years[10].

Walt Disney may have overnight made the sugar industry popular, planting the thought for generations to come that sugar is good for us and that because life is at times difficult we all have good reason to eat sweet foods, but did that song cause the explosion in sugar consumption that has us as a society fatter than ever? According to recent worldwide press releases, something much more sinister was at play and has now become very apparent.

When the explosion in coronary heart disease occurred in the1950’s and 1960’s[11], governments around the world began funding research into what was causing the increased deaths. The culprit was found to be too much fat… or so we were all led to believe.

In September 2016 in a breaking news article[13], it was revealed that the sugar industry influenced that same research to ensure that the research focussed on fat as the culprit, and not sugar, effectively ensuring there was no focus on sugar as a factor in the fight against obesity and heart disease. Let’s not for a moment think that this was an innocent mistake, or a coincidence. The actions taken by the sugar industry ensured that much of the processed food we have eaten for the last 50 years contained at best some added sugars, and at worst was laden with added sugars.

Did the sugar industry plan for generations of obese children? Possibly not, but did their actions show due care for the health of future generations? Definitely not.

Did the sugar industry blatantly re-direct research into the cause of heart disease to ensure that their future product sales were bountiful? By all reports they did, and it seems the results have been catastrophic for humanity.

Two things happen in the body when we eat sugar: some of the sugar is fed into the bloodstream, and the remainder is (yes, you guessed it) stored in the body as fat. So sugar in excess, whether that sugar is refined white sugar, so called healthy brown sugar, sugar substitutes such as aspartame or stevia, high fructose corn syrup, or even natural sugars like that from fruits, turns into fat.

Working in a corporate environment for over 30 years, I have come to learn that one person, or a very small group of men or women, can change the direction of an entire company, even one that is made up of hundreds of thousands of employees. A CEO can choose to lay off thousands of people in an effort to improve share prices, affecting the lives of not only those workers, but also their families, and their communities. Unlike governments, enterprises and corporations can where they choose, make decisions (often for their own interest or financial gain) that are unencumbered by debate or scrutiny, and that can influence all of society in the present and future.

So in this case, let’s say it plainly. A few people 50 years ago, who worked in the sugar industry, purposefully misled researchers away from the fact that sugar influences the body in a way that causes increased weight and hence heart disease. As a result fat was taken out of our processed foods, and sugar was added in even larger amounts. We bought the food in droves, loving the sweetness, all the time thinking we were doing the right thing by avoiding fat. 50 years later obesity has increased by 100% in children. 1 in 3 children in the US are currently obese. 80% of them will also be obese as adults.

How many lives has the greed of that small group of people in Big Sugar in the mid 1960’s cost?

What impact to the quality of life of people who now live with obesity and heart disease has there been?

Given the number of people affected by this well-executed deception, is this one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever recorded?

Only time will tell, but two things are for sure:

  • Sugar must be outed as the culprit that it is in the war against obesity in children.

  • Sugar does not help the medicine go down; in fact it is at the root of many illnesses.

References

  • [1]

    Ogden, Cynthia L. et al. "Prevalence Of Childhood And Adult Obesity In The United States, 2011-2012". JAMA 311.8 (2014): 806. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

  • [2]

    National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.

  • [3]

    Lifshitz, Fima. "Obesity In Children". Journal of Clinical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology 1.2 (2011): 53-60. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

  • [4]

    NSW Government says reducing childhood obesity 'a tall order'. (2016). ABC News. Retrieved 29 September 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-17/nsw-government-reducing-childhood-obesity-tough/7855220

  • [5]

    Tackling childhood obesity. (2016). Nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 29 September 2016, from http://www.nsw.gov.au/premiers-priorities-list/tackling-childhood-obesity

  • [6]

    Catalyst: Toxic Sugar? - ABC TV Science. (2016). Abc.net.au. Retrieved 29 September 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3821440.htm

  • [7]

    Is sugar causing the obesity 'epidemic'? - Health News - NHS Choices. (2014). Nhs.uk. Retrieved 29 September 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/01January/Pages/sugar-obesity-qa.aspx

  • [8]

    WHO: Daily sugar intake 'should be halved' - BBC News. (2016). BBC News. Retrieved 29 September 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-26449497

  • [9]

    Smith, J. (2014). John Yudkin: the man who tried to warn us about sugar. Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 20 October 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/wellbeing/diet/10634081/John-Yudkin-the-man-who-tried-to-warn-us-about-sugar.html

  • [10]

    U.S. Adult Consumption of Added Sugars Increased by More Than 30% Over Three Decades - The Obesity Society. (2016). Obesity.org. Retrieved 20 October 2016, from http://www.obesity.org/news/press-releases/us-adult

  • [11]

    Grimes, D. (2012). An epidemic of coronary heart disease. QJM, 105(6), 509-518. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcr265

  • [12]

    Lustig. (2016). SugarScience.org. Retrieved 10 December 2016, from http://www.sugarscience.org/robert-h.-lustig.html#.WAUg_zJh0nc]

  • [13]

    Holpuch, A. (2016). Sugar lobby paid scientists to blur sugar's role in heart disease – report. the Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/12/sugar-industry-paid-research-heart-disease-jama-report

Filed under

ObesitySugarAccountabilityCorruptionOver eatingDiabetes

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