Monday, 1 June 2015

Simon Stevens should be sacked as head of the NHS.


Simon Stevens is the man in charge of the NHS and, as such he has a duty to present information to the public in a dispassionate and honest way. He has failed in this responsibility:

Parents are "poisoning" their children by giving them too much sugary food and drink and must give them water, milk and fruit instead, the head of the NHS has warned.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said that parents must take "responsibility" or put their children at risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

He said that obesity is the "new smoking" and urged food manufacturers and supermarkets to do more to take sugar out of the food and drink they sell.

This particular polemic contains a whole set of factual errors, exaggerations and misleading statements. These include:

  • Implying that sugar is a poison. This is simply untrue (except in so far as a large enough quantity of anything is poisonous), sugars are essential to life because they are the simple compounds our cells use to provide energy.
  • Suggesting that there is a difference between different sugars - milk and fruit contain plenty of sugars (lactose and fructose) that serve exactly the same function as the sucrose in a fizzy drink
  • Saying that there is some connection between the consumption of sugar and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There's a connnection between morbid obesity and these conditions but that isn't caused by sugar but by us consuming too many calories for our needs - this could be sugar but is as likely to be complex carbohydrates from bread, pizza and cake.
  • Indicating that there is a link between sugar and increased rates of obesity when total sugar consumption (that is consumption of all 'non-milk extrinsic sugars') has fallen in the UK not risen
  • Repeating the line that rates of obesity are rising when they are, at worst, stable and may be falling. And failing to make clear that it is our increasingly sedentary lifestyle that is mostly responsible for the obesity problem.

So not only does Simon Stevens give bad advice (suggesting slices of apple are sugar-free) but he compounds this by repeating a series of incorrect, unevidenced and dangerous statements about diet. Plus of course scaring the wits out of perfectly good parents who just want to give their children a sweet treat now and then.

Stevens should be sacked.



Trofim said...

I understand that all courses on toxicology start off with this principle: There are no toxic substances - only toxic amounts.

Anonymous said...

I always like to check these people's credentials, especially their adcademic formation. More often than not they have no degrees in medicine per se, but plenty of them have degrees in Health Sciences, Health Policy, Health Psychology, or their equivalences. The head of the NHS doesn't give a very detailed description of his medical qualifications.