Today's target for the New Puritans is sugar:
Though the drinks and food industry still hotly contests it, a scientific consensus is now emerging that fatal problems can be traced back to excessive sugar consumption. Sugary drinks, addiction and obesity are inextricably linked: excess sugar in the diet may be a greater cause of obesity than fat is. Obese people suffer from diabetes, cancer, fatty liver disease, dementia and heart problems to the extent that their healthcare costs are double those of people with a healthy body mass. The "metabolic syndrome" maladies associated with insulin resistance and obesity – many authorities now just use the term "diabesity" – are expected soon to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of heart disease in the world. And perhaps of cancer, too.
This 'scientific consensus' consists almost entirely of Dr Robert Lustig described as:
...the guru of an increasingly noisy international campaign pressing governments to act as aggressively on sugary drinks as they have on tobacco
To question the evil of Big Sugar is to question this received wisdom. In doing so I will present just one statistic - sugar consumption from 1974-2010.
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.
The period of the graph above was the period during which levels of male obesity rose from around 13% to over 22%. Yet our consumption of sugar did not rise during that period. This makes it pretty hard to finger sugar as the main culprit for increased levels of obesity.
While sugar is a factor in obesity - and consumption isn't evenly distributed across the population - the main factor is our sedentary lifestyle:
According to rigorous research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the average Briton consumes 600 fewer calories every day than 30 years ago. That’s like dropping a daily burger and chips from your overall consumption.This isn't about getting people to go to the gym - that helps but is no substitute for constant physical activity: walking, climbing steps, physical handling, lifting and so forth. The truth is that we eat more than we should given that our default state is sofa, chair or car seat.
That’s the good news and now here’s the bad. We’re ingesting 20% fewer calories than our counterparts of the early 1980s, and yet we weigh, on average, a whopping 30lb more.
Sugar is just a convenient demon especially when we can claim it's addictive, that our overconsumption is someone else's fault - Big Sugar, advertising, Coca-cola - rather than our own responsibility.
And the demon gives the New Puritans another thing to judge people on, another of life's pleasures to denormalise and another chance to screw money from the taxpayer to sustain The Church of Public Health.