By: Steve Cook
Is Sugar the New Tobacco?
Articles with titles like this started appearing last week in mainstream British newspapers such as the Mail, Guardian, Independent and Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10559671/Sugar-is-as-dangerous-as-alcohol-and-tobacco-warn-health-experts.html).
We were treated to the rare spectacle of even the execrable British tabloids giving their readers a glimpse of the truth: data that might even raise their understanding a bit, seeping as if by osmosis into the mainstream.
The press this side of the Atlantic reported on an alliance of British and Canadian health experts coming together to launch a campaign on sugar. The campaign exposes the dangers of excessive sugar consumption and the manifold deleterious effects thereof that have contributed so much to various health problems in the UK, including obesity and diabetes.
Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, Simon Capewell, is quoted as saying, “Sugar is the new tobacco. Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focussed on profit not health. The obesity epidemic is already generating a huge burden of disease and death.”
This is spot on and reiterates what so many people have been saying via the alternative (i.e., more truthful) media for decades. In fact so many people have been saying it for so long and it is so broadly known it is becoming almost impossible for the food industry and their proxies government to pretend they are unaware of it, lest they give the impression of being terminally dense.
The experts are reported to have called for a 30% reduction in the amount of sugar these unscrupulous manufacturers add to their products. They highlight the fact that children are particularly vulnerable because they are the primary targets of marketing campaigns for fizzy drinks and candies, although even the more health conscious are at risk, with a single carton of Yeo Valley diet yogurt cited as containing five (yes, five!) teaspoons of sugar.
There were calls, or at least suggestions, that maybe the government could do something about it so as to oblige the manufacturers to become more ethical about how much sugar they contaminate their products with. That’s assuming the government is not too busy massaging the stats or planning the invasion of a small country to allow itself the distraction of bothering about the health of the country’s citizens.
My first reaction was that yes, it was not a bad idea: the amount of sugar in many food products is injurious to health so maybe government could make itself useful by getting the manufacturers to behave more responsibly if they won’t do it voluntarily.
Now, I’m personally in favour of minimal government. In a sane world government would not be much in evidence so far as the honest man is concerned. It would leave people alone and confine itself to its legitimate role: bothering only the criminal, by which I mean those who insist on doing others harm by malice aforethought, whether for personal advantage or in subservience to darker urges.
Yet it seemed to me that here might just be a legitimate role for government to play. It flounders around doing many things it has no business doing and generally getting in the way of people living their lives in peace but here just maybe was something helpful it could do: protect its employers (the citizenry) from food producers who lace their food with harmful products by insisting that those food producers knock it off or at least rein in their excesses a bit.
Yet the suggestion that government could act on the citizens’ behalf was rebuffed in the Guardian by a facetious article entitled “First tobacco, now sugar. Next they’ll be regulating our trousers – Action on Sugar is the latest attempt by the nation’s nannies to clamp down on our freedom of choice.”
You see little outrage in the British newspapers about attempts by government to remove freedom of choice when it comes to minor things like war, fracking, GMOs and so forth, but oh boy when someone suggests that food giants be forced to behave themselves and honour their obligation to safeguard the health of their consumers, you’d think the Nazis had taken power and were advocating the internment of fat people.
In any case, the headline was disingenuous in that the scientists and doctors behind the Campaign on Sugar were not proposing to “clamp down” on anything – except the venal conduct of some food manufacturers. And while we’re on the subject, I should point out, lest it becomes irrevocably lost amid the scramble for money, that supplying millions of people with the food that keeps them alive is – or should be – a sacred trust. It requires a high ethic level on the part of those who are given that trust. Without that high ethic level we wind up with . . . well, pretty much what we have already: insidious malnutrition leading to a slow, creeping pervasiveness of physical and mental ill health and fatigue.
Be that as it may, the gist of the Guardian’s fatuous article was that the suggestion that the quantity of sugar in foodstuffs should be controlled was a violation of the citizen’s human right to poison himself. After all, foods in the UK are clearly labelled so all you have to do is read the labels and avoid anything that has sugar in it. “Everybody knows” that sugar is bad for you so if people want to consume it, it’s up to them.
This is partially true. People do have the right to choose. If they choose to make themselves unwell by eating sugar, it’s their right. They can be obese if they want to, have diabetes or zits if they really want to, let their teeth fall out or suffer from any of the other illnesses over-consumption of sugar causes. Just as you can bash up your car if the mood takes you, I see no reason that someone cannot similarly beat up his own body. It’s his property.
As for “everybody knows” that sugar is bad for you, I’m not so sure. Many people may have a general idea that it is but I’m not convinced they understand the extent. Probably a lot more education is needed before people can really understand sugar and really grasp what they are reading when they study the food labels. A rise in general literacy levels would help with that, if the education authorities could see their way to restoring literacy to the far higher level it was at half a century ago – if that’s not too much to ask.
Food in the UK is indeed generally well labelled and, yes, all you have to do is read the label and make your own supposedly informed choice as to whether to buy the product. Again, true enough. But when we read that a product such as the yoghurt mentioned above contains such-and-such a percentage of sugar, can most of us actually visualise what that means in terms of the amount and its impact on our health? I doubt it. I knew that some yogurts have sugar in them but I never visualised that the quantity can amount to up to four tablespoons in a single tub! I mean that’s a hell of a lot of sugar!
But still, at least you can avoid the product if you’re not sure – or take a risk if you are of a mind to. Freedom of choice: nothing wrong with that. The problem is it’s going to involve you in a heck of a lot of avoiding; there is so much sugar in so very many products, not to mention all the other horrible things that have also been added to food products.
But what I find strange is this: why do I have to spend so much of my time while shopping squinting at the food labels to find out which product is booby-trapped with something poisonous to me? Why can I not trust the producers of the foods I will eat or my children will eat so that I don’t have to do this? What are those harmful additives doing in the food in the first place and why do I have to exercise so much caution to avoid what are actually to one degree or another poisons?
If you want to give people real freedom of choice whilst granting them the right to buy products with confidence that they are safe without having to study the labels, why not remove the sugar and then people can add as much sugar as they want to themselves? If they want four teaspoons of sugar in their yogurt, they can add it at home and add as little or as much as they want. They would actually have MORE freedom to choose how much sugar is in their food.
The “nanny state” argument – quite emotive for many Brits in a land that has endured many years of that harmful contaminant known as Socialism – would be a good one if the proposal was to enact laws forbidding the citizen to eat sugar or making levels of consumption mandatory. But that is not the case. Quite rightly there is no proposal to legislate how much sugar a person can or cannot shovel into his own body. If there is legislation proposed at all, it is directed at the manufacturer with a view to making him behave responsibly towards the consumer if he will not do so voluntarily.
The presence of sugar is essentially the entry of contamination into foodstuffs. Now, if some factory belched out smoke laden with contaminants into the air, no-one would object to legislation demanding that the factory stopped harming people in its vicinity. No journalist would bleat about the “nanny state” if the government insisted that the owners of the factory act responsibly and curb their efforts to pollute the environment, especially if said pollution was deliberately added to the factory smoke and was thus entirely avoidable. And no-one would be claiming the factory could sound an alarm when pollution levels reached a certain point so that people could put on gas masks (or not – according to their freedom to choke to death if they want to) or move to another district to avoid the pollution and thus exercise their freedom of choice as to whether to allow poison into their bodies via their lungs.
But when the pollution enters the body via the digestive system, apparently it’s a different matter.
Meanwhile, in an imaginary world where foods are not laced with sugar, parents could exercise their freedom of choice by adding sugar to their children’s soft drinks and desserts as well. If they want their son or daughter to have drinks or dollops of ketchup with enough sugar in them to make the child hyper and then get diagnosed by some psychiatrist as suffering from so-called ADHD, well they can spoon it in.
Ideally, maybe the children should have a choice too. But the kids would have to be educated from a young age on what sugar is and what it does. It raises this question: if “everybody knows” sugar is bad for you and “everybody has a right” to poison themselves or not as they wish, why are they still letting their kids eat or drink junk? What “freedom of choice” do the children get when they depend for their health on their parents AND the food industry acting in their best interests until they are old and experienced enough to make their own informed choices? I doubt that many children at the age of five read the label on a soft drink or, if they do, understand what they are reading.
So this spurious “freedom of choice” argument amounts, if I may use a crude allegory, to having a minefield and then saying it is all right to have the minefield there because each mine has a little flag on it, which people can see if they peer hard enough. They can tiptoe around the mines if they want to, or tread on them if they feel like it. Fair enough. But why is the minefield put there at all?
This brings to me to the point the article did not address at all:
If “everybody knows” how harmful sugar is, then certainly the food manufacturers know it. If you or I know it then they sure as hell do: they are in the FOOD industry after all and busily inserting sugar INTO the food so it seems unthinkable that they do not know all about sugar. So why are they still putting it in food? Why are the manufacturers knowingly putting in food a substance that has little nutritional value and actually harms the health of the consumer? Why are they relying for their sales upon the consumer being stupid, having a death wish, not reading the content labels, or not understanding the labels, or being children or deciding “to hell with the consequences” and going ahead and buying the stuff anyway?
What is so important about high sugar content that, unless someone prosecutes them for it, they will go right on lacing their products with it? Why not just leave the sugar out and sell a nutritious product?
It could not be anything to do with the fact that sugar produces cravings, could it? That it is pretty addictive? If there is a sound nutritional reason for all that sugar rather than one to do with making lots of money from craving and addiction, I’d like to hear about it.
Be all that as it may, the good news is that the British media is actually now informing its readers about the dangers of sugar and some are even giving their readers advice on how to cut down on sugar consumption and the healthy alternatives that exist.
Okay, so it’s only about five decades behind the rest of us but better late than never. And it does show that the truth, repeated by men of good will often enough and tirelessly enough, will eventually penetrate the toughest armour and the thickest skulls and reach the people.
Steve Cook publishes the online satirical newspaper, The Daily Scare (http://daily-scare.blogspot.co.uk).
His blog is at http://stevecookwriter.blogspot.co.uk
His Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/stephencookwriter