Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Sugar is our Enemy

First appeared in Consumer News Namibia Magazine April 2013)

There is a new documentary called FED UP, that takes a look at the global problem of obesity and obesity-related diseases (In other words “Why are humans fat?”). Some years back the first consumer oriented documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, made waves and created awareness of the issue surrounding climate change. In, FED UP, the filmmakers continue with this tradition with a hard-hitting challenge over the misconceptions (and food industry-sponsored misinformation) about diet and exercise, good and bad calories, fat genes and lifestyle.

One of the biggest misconceptions about sugar is addressed in the film. According to the film’s scientific consultant Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist, author and president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, “when it comes to obesity, fat may not be our friend but it’s not the enemy that sugar is.” This view is gathering support from doctors all across the world.

To further understand this issue, we need to look at statistics in the United State of America (USA) as there is very little first-hand historical information available in Namibia. In the USA, 17% of children and young people aged between two and nineteen are considered obese. Another study predicts that today’s American children will lead shorter lives than their parents. This must be very scary, and should be considered in the Namibian context because we are starting to follow the same eating habits of these developed nations.

However, we must be careful in blaming our problems on obesity nor fat. “The food industry wants you to focus on three falsehoods that keep it from facing issues of culpability. One, it’s about obesity. Two, a calorie is a calorie. Three, it’s about personal responsibility,” according to Lustig.
“If obesity was the issue, metabolic illnesses that typically show up in the obese would not be showing up at rates found in the normal-weight population. More than half the populations of the US and UK are experiencing effects normally associated with obesity. If more than half the population has problems, it can’t be a behaviour issue. It must be an exposure problem. And that exposure is to sugar.”

The film further goes on and claims that fast-food chains (Wipmy, Nando’s, to name a few Namibian brands) and the makers of processed foods such as dairy and meat, have added more sugar to “low fat” foods to make them more appetizing and tasty. Thus the producers are making “healthy foods” appear less dangerous and we tend to eat more of them because of their perceived “healthiness”.
In many societies, nutrition problems are most often associated with low-income groups, but this “sugary problem” is affecting all levels of society. In the film, they suggest that big business is poisoning us with food marketed under the disguise of health benefits.

One of these diseases, early-onset diabetes which is associated with exposure to cane sugar and corn syrup, was virtually unknown a few years ago. At the present rate approximately one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050. “Obesity costs very little and is not dangerous in and of itself,” says Lustig, who works with the UK’s Action on Sugar campaign. “But diabetes costs a whole lot in terms of social evolution, decreased productivity, medical and pharmaceutical costs, and death.”

The film-makers say it is not in the interest of food, beverage or pharmaceutical companies to reduce sugar content. “It’s too profitable,” says Lustig. The pharmaceutical industry talks of diabetes treatment, not prevention. “The food industry makes a disease and the pharmaceutical industry treats it. They make out like bandits while the rest of us are being taken to the cleaners.”

One of the important points that Lustig makes is that: “Food producers are going to have to be forced. There’s only one group that can force them, and that’s the government. There’s one group that can force the government, and that’s the people.”
Truly inspirational words for the consumer groups and Consumer News Namibia Magazine.

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