Professor Grant Schofield at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has co-authored the most comprehensive report on ‘the science against sugar’ alongside two leading international experts on obesity. They are advocating an eight-point plan, to reverse the type 2 diabetes epidemic within three years, which is being backed by eminent public health scientists around the world.
“New Zealand has the third highest rate of obesity in the world. There is no doubt that sugar in our diet causes us harm. Sugar is making us fat and sick. It’s rotting our children’s teeth and causing a diabetes epidemic. The question is: ‘What are we going to do about it?’,” says Professor Schofield.
“The affordability, accessibility and acceptability of sugar is one of the unsolved problems of our time. What we’re offering is a focused eight-point solution to reverse the tide worldwide. It’s time to treat sugar and the industry that promotes it as a public health threat.”
The recommendations include taxes on all sugary foods, labelling of sugar in teaspoons rather than grams and establishing healthy eating and physical activity as separate and independent public health goals.
The experts are also calling for a ban on sugar-fuelled loss leading in supermarkets, sponsorship of sporting events by companies associated with sugary products and advertising of sugary drinks on television as well as on demand services. In addition, government food subsidies should be discontinued and policy ought to prevent all dietetic organisations from accepting money or endorsing companies that market processed foods.
The report states that, much like tobacco, evidence of sugar being uniquely harmful to humans has been supressed for decades. And, opposition from vested interests needs to be overcome.
The food industry, its partners and political allies utilise numerous instruments to deflect culpability and derail political change. These tactics include linking sugar to obesity rather than type 2 diabetes, paying scientists, obfuscating scientific research and co-opting public health experts.
For years, soft drink companies and their publicity machines have plugged the lack of physical activity as a primary cause of obesity – when there is evidence that, although a sedentary lifestyle contributes to chronic disease, the impact of physical activity is minimal at best. You cannot outrun a bad diet.
Perhaps the food industry’s most potent messaging is that the public should exercise personal responsibility – ‘It’s your fault you’re fat’ – a strategy first deployed by tobacco companies in 1962, as reason to keep on smoking.
“In the sugar tax debate, sugar is seen as a small component cause of obesity and poor healthy. But, we’re arguing that sugar is a central and primary cause of our modern epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Professor Schofield.
“Sugar should not only be taxed, but denormalised by restricting marketing and sales, and redressing historic misinformation on the issue of sugar.”
The report describes in some detail how government, trade organisations and astroturf groups have masked their paid-for spin as research-driven advocacy.
Industry has a right to use information to market its products, but it does not have a right to use disinformation to propagandise them. The public deserves to know about the financial relationships between business and those who represent their interests.
“Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is one of the most important health decisions that all New Zealanders can make. There is no biological requirement or nutritional value in sugar. The less you eat of it, the better,” says Professor Schofield.