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The Sugar Conspiracy


Monday, 14 May 2018

The Sugar Conspiracy: Experts advocate plan to reverse type 2 diabetes epidemic within three years

Professor Grant Schofield at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has co-authored the most comprehensive report on ‘the science against sugar’ alongside two leading international experts on obesity. They are advocating an eight-point plan, to reverse the type 2 diabetes epidemic within three years, which is being backed by eminent public health scientists around the world.

“New Zealand has the third highest rate of obesity in the world. There is no doubt that sugar in our diet causes us harm. Sugar is making us fat and sick. It’s rotting our children’s teeth and causing a diabetes epidemic. The question is: ‘What are we going to do about it?’,” says Professor Schofield.

“The affordability, accessibility and acceptability of sugar is one of the unsolved problems of our time. What we’re offering is a focused eight-point solution to reverse the tide worldwide. It’s time to treat sugar and the industry that promotes it as a public health threat.”

The recommendations include taxes on all sugary foods, labelling of sugar in teaspoons rather than grams and establishing healthy eating and physical activity as separate and independent public health goals.

The experts are also calling for a ban on sugar-fuelled loss leading in supermarkets, sponsorship of sporting events by companies associated with sugary products and advertising of sugary drinks on television as well as on demand services. In addition, government food subsidies should be discontinued and policy ought to prevent all dietetic organisations from accepting money or endorsing companies that market processed foods.

The report states that, much like tobacco, evidence of sugar being uniquely harmful to humans has been supressed for decades. And, opposition from vested interests needs to be overcome.

The food industry, its partners and political allies utilise numerous instruments to deflect culpability and derail political change. These tactics include linking sugar to obesity rather than type 2 diabetes, paying scientists, obfuscating scientific research and co-opting public health experts.

For years, soft drink companies and their publicity machines have plugged the lack of physical activity as a primary cause of obesity – when there is evidence that, although a sedentary lifestyle contributes to chronic disease, the impact of physical activity is minimal at best. You cannot outrun a bad diet.

Perhaps the food industry’s most potent messaging is that the public should exercise personal responsibility – ‘It’s your fault you’re fat’ – a strategy first deployed by tobacco companies in 1962, as reason to keep on smoking.

“In the sugar tax debate, sugar is seen as a small component cause of obesity and poor healthy. But, we’re arguing that sugar is a central and primary cause of our modern epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Professor Schofield.

“Sugar should not only be taxed, but denormalised by restricting marketing and sales, and redressing historic misinformation on the issue of sugar.”

The report describes in some detail how government, trade organisations and astroturf groups have masked their paid-for spin as research-driven advocacy.

Industry has a right to use information to market its products, but it does not have a right to use disinformation to propagandise them. The public deserves to know about the financial relationships between business and those who represent their interests.

“Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is one of the most important health decisions that all New Zealanders can make. There is no biological requirement or nutritional value in sugar. The less you eat of it, the better,” says Professor Schofield.

About the report

The report – “The science against sugar, alone, is insufficient in tackling the obesity and type 2 diabetes crises – We must also overcome opposition from vested interests” – was co-authored by Professor Grant Schofield (Auckland University of Technology, NZ), Professor Robert Lustig (University of California, US) and Dr Aseem Malhorta (NHS Consultant Cardiologist, UK).

Click here to view the article in the Journal of Insulin Resistance.

The eight-point public health intervention plan

1. Education for the public should emphasise that there is no biological need or nutritional value of added sugar. Industry should be forced to label added and free sugars on food products in teaspoons rather than grams, which will make it easier to understand.

2. There should be a complete ban of companies associated with sugary products from sponsoring sporting events. We encourage celebrities in the entertainment industry and sporting role models (as Indian cricketer Virat Kohli and American basketballer Stephan Curry have already done) to publicly dissociate themselves from sugary product endorsement.

3. We call for a ban on loss leading in supermarkets and running end-of-aisle loss leading on sugary and junk foods and drinks.

4. Sugary drinks taxes should extend to sugary foods as well.

5. We call for a complete ban of all sugary drink advertising (including fruit juice) on TV and internet demand services.

6. We recommend the discontinuing all governmental food subsidies, especially commodity crops such as sugar, which contribute to health detriments. These subsidies distort the market, and increase the costs of non-subsidised crops, making them unaffordable for many. No industry should be provided a subsidy for hurting people.

7. Policy should prevent all dietetic organisations from accepting money or endorsing companies that market processed foods. If they do, they cannot be allowed to claim their dietary advice is independent.

8. We recommend splitting healthy eating and physical activity as separate and independent public health goals. We strongly recommend avoiding sedentary lifestyles through promotion of physical activity to prevent chronic disease for all ages and sizes, because “you can’t outrun a bad diet”. However, physical (in)activity is often conflated as an alternative solution to obesity on a simple energy in and out equation. The evidence for this approach is weak. This approach necessarily ignores the metabolic complexity and unnecessarily pitches two independently healthy behaviours against each other on just one poor health outcome (obesity). The issue of relieving the burden of nutrition-related disease needs to improve diet, not physical activity.

Retrospective econometric analysis and prospective Markov modelling both predict that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes will start to reduce three years after implementing these measures.

About Professor Grant Schofield

Grant Schofield is a Professor of Public Health and Director of the Human Potential Centre at AUT Millennium. His research interests range from understanding and improving lifestyle behaviours such as nutrition, physical activity and sleep, to wellbeing epidemiology and human performance. He maintains fluency across psychology, physiology, public health, epidemiology and human performance, and thinks outside the box in tackling big health problems.


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