Thursday, 26 March 2015

More media lies about sugar and processed food...

Some healthily presented sugar and fat

Writing in Spectator Health, Janna Lawrence continues the war on cheap, accessible and nutritious mass-produced food by claiming - entirely without evidence - that it is this stuff that is responsible for a range of health problems (you know the list - cancers, diabetes, obesity and so forth):

Regardless of whether you buy into the concept of food addiction, the results of eating unhealthy, high-energy foods are self-evident. A quarter of adults in England are obese. Admissions to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity increased nine-fold between 2003 and 2013. That’s an astonishing statistic. Obesity is reckoned to cost our economy £47 billion a year. But while selling cocaine is illegal, selling sugar and fat is fine, apparently.

Janna Lawrence has simply absorbed the latest example of egregious pseudo-science and wrapped it up in some scary statistics to suggest that somehow we are eating loads more sugar and fat but don't know it because it's secretly loaded into 'processed food'.

Let's deal with some of the facts. Firstly total calorie consumption per capita has fallen in the UK. And, alongside this, consumption of fats and especially saturated fats has fallen significantly. Plus, of course, our consumption of sugars - that's all sugars not just the white stuff in bags - has fallen too. This includes all Ms Lawrence's evil processed foods.

The DEFRA survey (conducted annually since the 1970s) also contains data on per capita consumption of different sources of calories...(and) shows a decline in the consumption of ‘total sugars’ of sixteen per cent since 1992 (and) a decline in saturated fat consumption of 41 per cent since 1974. Consumption of protein, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates (of which sugar is one) have all declined since 1974. 

So while we've been piling on the pounds and making new notches in our belts, our consumption of the things Janna thinks are responsible has been falling. It is quite simply a lie to say that the obesity problem and its associated health consequences is a result of increased consumption of sugars and fats.

Yet people persist in promoting the idea that our obesity problem is a consequence solely of diet when the evidence says strongly that it isn't - our ever more sedantary lifestyle is the real culprit. Moreover rates of obesity stopped rising sometime around 2004 - they've not fallen much but this is not, as some suggest, an accelerating problem but rather a stable one. Because so much has been invested by the public health industry in problematising overweight there's a reluctance to admit to this stabilising of obesity rates.  It's also true that the increase in obesity is overstated:

Overall, the research shows gradual increases in the average BMI over time, from 25.6kg/m2 to 27.5kg/m2 in men; and from 24.5kg/m2 to 26.5kg/m2 for women. Most of this increase occurred before 2001, after this there has been a much slower rate of increase.

This - over a thirty year period - represents a seven per cent increase in average male BMI and an eight per cent increase in average female BMI. As ever the problem isn't really a 'whole population' issue but rather that we have a segment of that total population who, for whatever reason, are unhealthily obese. This means that the ghastly health fascist solution proposed by Janna Lawrence is not only illiberal (she admits to that) but also completely unnecessary. Rather than introducing sugar taxes, banning advertising and paying benefits in food stamps only redeemable against produce approved by the likes of Ms Lawrence, we should instead target our resources towards the million or so people with a real weight-related health problem.


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