The Demon Drink You Give to Children
Picture yourself seated at the dining table and devouring one kilo bag of sugar. New Zealanders average even more added sugar than this each week.
Auckland University Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences hosted a two day symposium: Sugary Drink Free Pacific by 2030? Rarely have I heard esteemed scientists so vehement in their views. Endocrinologist Robert Lustig (his expose on sugar has over 4 million views on YouTube) said, “Sugar is the alcohol of the child”. He explained how this food is processed differently than other fuels, which leads to fatty liver. Dr Richard Johnson, kidney disease specialist, diagrammed how sugar lowers ATP production – our key vitality provider. He employed a verb used with caution in science, “Fructose causes metabolic syndrome”. This cluster of markers is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, kidney disease and dementia.
Dr Kieran Rooney, said that research has shifted to viewing cancer too as a metabolic disease. Breast cancer cells have 400 times the usual glucose transporters in order to use sugar as their energy source. He suggested the ketogenic diet should be studied (high fat and protein, low starchy carbohydrates). Professor Tony Merriman added that speed of consumption inhibits the effect of sweet foods. For example, eat whole fruit slowly instead of gulping juice. He also noted that in fruit the fibre, vitamin C content, minerals and other antioxidants can offset the metabolic downsides of its natural sugar content.
Epidemiologist Dr Simon Thornley said that supermarkets are temples to sugar. Remove foods with added sugar and 80% of items disappear. Breakfast cereals are 20-30% sugar; even cigarettes are 5% sugar. He said that sugar can fit the psychiatric definition regarding substance abuse and withdrawal. “Sugar is addictive and should be banned at schools.” Endocrinologist and University of Auckland Professor Boyd Swinburn showed how children’s SSB [sugar sweetened beverage] intake correlated with weight gain. From several speakers there were versions of, “The food industry should be fought like the tobacco industry.”
There were non-scientist speakers too. Damon Gameau is an Australian Underbelly actor who directed the documentary That Sugar Film. He avoided added sugar for 2 years. After eating the average amount for 3 weeks his blood test showed liver cells dying and fatty liver developing. Project Citizen Team is a US elementary school group who revealed the “…bittersweet truth about sugar. Sugar turns to fat and I don’t want that!” AUT Business School Advisor Tony Falkenstein emphasised that governments are here to protect their citizens. They should learn lessons from the Tobacco Industry fight as we approach the Food Industry fight.
Nelson DHB dentist Dr Rob Beaglehole said 7,000 children per year need general anaesthetics for major dental surgery due to decay. He advocated sponsorship and advertising bans on all sweet drinks including juice and flavoured milk, as there was no difference in public health cost between “SSBs, alcohol and tobacco.” Dr Lustig commented that people vote for taxation on foods and drinks when the proposal is attached to a specific positive. Mexico tied a similar tax to the revenue being used to create potable water. Due to their alcohol dependency problems, Nordic countries successfully reduced consumption by subsidising low-alcohol beer and heavily taxing spirits.
Dr Wendy Snowden spoke about SSB use in Fiji and the relationship to disease, as did Dr Paula Vivili regarding other Pacific nations. These countries have the world’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes – with corresponding SSB consumption. Some countries such as Nauru tried restrictions and tax on SSBs. Industry undercut their prices and intake levels soon resumed. Dr Mike Rayner, Director of the British Heart Foundation, said that taxes on alcohol and tobacco have worked to lower use.
In the final speech by Hon Tariana Turia she lampooned criticism of ‘nanny state’ interventions by saying this Nanny was on board for taxing SSBs – as she is for making Aotearoa smoke-free by 2025.
The symposium booklet began with a Declaration. Some key points were to adopt the American Heart Association recommendation of a safe daily upper limit of 9 teaspoons of added sugar (as different to intrinsic sugar such as found in fruit) for men; 6 teaspoons for women; 3 teaspoons for children. Among children about 25% of sugar comes from SSBs. These are the #1 single dietary source for children; #2 for adults. The university-based symposium steering group advocates taxing SSBs and restricting advertising of sugary drinks and food. The reasons given were that sugar intake is linked in epidemiological studies to dental caries; weight gain; cardiovascular disease; type-2 diabetes; raised blood pressure; dyslipidaemia; gout; some forms of cancer; ADHD; reduced cognitive development; depression and suicide.
The Declaration will be sent to attendees for response and signing. The draft so far concluded with “We, the delegates of this conference, endorse the view that sugary drinks in New Zealand and the Pacific region should be treated in the same manner as tobacco, with a view to eventually phasing out sugar from our food supply, to protect the health of our populations.” Wow.
Sugar cane juice has been dried and granulated starting in India about 600 AD. Throughout its history, overconsumption – by the few mega-wealthy who could afford the luxury – has been associated with obesity, tooth decay, gout and diabetes. However today’s populations with the greatest longevity (Japan and the Mediterranean) traditionally eat small amounts of occasional sugar. Just not the industrialised norm of every meal, snack and beverage. It is said in science that substances don’t kill, but dosages do. It is possible to drink so much water in an hour as to cause kidney failure and death. This does not make water innately bad for us. As a former pastry chef I delight in and admire a fine dessert. It is also socially important – and enjoyable – to be dietarily gracious when dining out. However for many years all my website baking and dessert recipes have been without cane sugar to prove there is a way to honour both Venus and Virtue. Dismiss either Goddess and she will have her revenge.
So there is no need to hoard meringues. Even crusader Dr Lustig said prohibition wasn’t the answer and would only promote the equivalent of an ice cream speak-easy.