Saturday, 3 January 2015

Jamie Oliver is both a nannying fussbucket and wrong about sugar consumption


It seems 2015 is going to be the year where that attack on sugar goes postal - we'll see almost daily pieces claiming it's addictive, poisonous and responsible for all the sins and evils of the world. And that the way to deal with this problem is to lump a tax on the evil stuff.

So it starts - with a famous TV chef:

Mr Oliver told the Daily Mail: “Sugar’s definitely the next evil. It’s the next tobacco, without doubt, and that industry should be scared. And it should be taxed, just like tobacco and anything else that can, frankly, destroy lives.” 

Jamie goes on to claim that "68 per cent of every case that goes through the NHS is diet-related" - you know now that he's lost it (if you've any idea where this statistic comes from do let me know).

Of course the thing about sugar is that we eat a lot less of it than we used to - really:

In 1974 the average consumption of sugar per head per week in the UK was  458g - which is a near as it gets to a pound of sugar each week. Today the figure is just 90g per head per week. Sugar consumption has fallen every single year (bar one) since 1958.

How our diet has changed since the 1970s

And this isn't just the bags of white stuff but all that 'Non-milk Extrinsic Sugar' - basically all the 'added sugars' of whatever sort that crop up in our food. For a longer term perspective, here's a graph of UK sugar consumption:

UK per capita sugar consumption is now falling

Source: Czarnikow, F O Licht, ISO, Board of Trade Journal
Now it's true that the UK has a problem with obesity. And that this contributes people getting diabetes, liver disease, coronary heart problems, bad knees and so forth. But the cause of this problem really isn't sugar.



Al Jahom said...

Good info, Mr C.

Bit light on insults though, eh? ;-)

Also, Oliver's preference for a regressive tax on the poor in lieu of cuts and efficiencies is telling, don't you think?

Jonathan Bagley said...

I find this topic very interesting. I've also read total calories consumed per head has also gone down, which is consistent with your fig 5.1. By a process of elimination, if obesity isn't due to total calories, or differing ratios of sugar, protein and fat, it must be due to either keeping the body warmer than previously, or doing less exercise. I don't think the former can have that much effect and I'm sceptical about exercise having enough effect. Firstly, 3 hob knobs is equivalent to walking 2.5 miles; and if you've walked 2.5 miles, you probably eat more than you would have otherwise.
I have no solution. Personally I, like many others, put losing a couple of inches from my waist down to eating more fat and protein and less carbohydrate. But on a population wide scale, this seems to conflict with the nutritional evidence of fig 5.1. We seemed to remain slim in the 70s by eating more sugar, the same amount of bread, cereal and pasta and significantly more potatoes. I guess it must be the exercise. Perhaps all the little physical things we had to do back then do add up to something significant?