Posts Tagged ‘sin tax’

Sugar Coated Documentary

I think it’s fair to say that Sugar Coated didn’t really sugar coat their concerns about the sugar industry. Gary Taubes, Robert Lustig, and Ancel Keyes were all names I recognized when they came up. One of the things that surprised me, though, was that despite Ancel Keyes winning, the fact that there are very serious people with very serious concerns about sugar isn’t new at all. Of course, neither is an industry rerouting money for studies and sponsorships to redirect the discourse. In fact, they point out all through the documentary that Big Sugar’s MO is just the same as Big Tobacco’s. As long as there’s enough doubt as to the danger, legislation can’t be passed and they’ll survive.

I have some disagreements with some of their statements. I don’t think that sugar is sugar is sugar. I think that there is a genuine difference between High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), white table sugar, honey, maple syrup, and agave. However, teasing out those differences would have distracted from the overall message which is that there’s too much sugar out there in everything, and especially in processed food. Since most of what’s in processed food is HFCS, and HFCS is terrible, I can roll with the general sentiment.

The increase in processed food and sugar intake coincided with Ancel Keyes “winning” the debate over whether it was fat or sugar that caused heart disease. Big Sugar bankrolled him against a doctor in London , John Yudkin, who had serious concerns about what sugar might be doing to people. There were the same article headlines in the 1970s that there are right now, does it cause diabetes, hyper activity, tooth decay? Since then, particularly in America, we have reduced our meat and fat intake and increased our processed food intake because of a concentrated effort on the part of the sugar industry to paint themselves as harmless, even helpful. When you make low-fat processed foods, what we were being told was healthy, they taste terrible. The fix to that is to add sugar. Check it out next time you’re looking at yogurt or ice cream. The low fat version is almost never a lower calorie version, and in some cases is actually higher calorie. In a strange twist, though, apparently we haven’t changed our vegetable intake at all since the 1980s.

I appreciate that they point out this isn’t just about fat people. Calories in versus calories out isn’t the whole picture. In fact, when you just look at the non-obese, 40% have the metabolic diseases that we blame on obesity. Which means there’s something going on other than just people getting fat. It’s not a moral question or a question of self control. They interviewed an endurance athlete who was on basically a zero fat diet for years because he’d done his research and that’s what was recommended. Since he was monitoring his daily fasting blood glucose, he got to watch himself become pre-diabetic. This was not on cookies and ice cream, this was on oatmeal and sports bars and endurance training. But there “is no evidence to connect sugar to chronic disease.”

I thought it was quite interesting when they pointed out that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, something of grave and increasing concern among children, is basically the human version of fois gras. It’s just done on a voluntary basis versus the standard force feeding used for geese. This, along with all of the other diseases that are popping up in children are not only a massive and growing burden on the medical industry, but are of increasing concern of shortening lifespans.

Of course, when you’re looking for research on the harm potentially caused by something, if it’s as big and pervasive as sugar, it can be hard to find research that sugar doesn’t have its sticky fingers in. Government has been reducing research grants for decades, and industry is more than happy to fill the void. Just make sure that you’re coming up with the right answers or you won’t get that grant extension for this project or a new grant for the next project.

They do talk about essentially a sin tax on sugar to make it less accessible. I’m not a huge fan of the idea because it wasn’t that long ago that Denmark instituted a tax on saturated fat using the same reasoning. They recently¬†repealed it since a whole bunch of people were popping over to Germany for their cheese and butter. However, we don’t really, actually know enough about what’s definitely good for us versus definitely bad to be sure we’re taxing the right bad things. If you don’t believe me, just pop into two opposing food forums for a visit. On the other hand, I like their idea of restructuring the farm supports to actually support things we know are good for us, like vegetables. I think that should be paired with backing off the subsidies that go to sugar and grain industries. If sugar and grain are no longer unreasonably cheap compared with real food like vegetables, the food industry will naturally move away from them to protect their bottom line. We just need the people advising the food bill to be farmers, not “food industry” lobbyists.

In the end, we use sugar to say “I love you” but it’s starting to ring as hollow as that chocolate shell bunny in your Easter basket. We need to read labels, but we also need labels that are readable to the average shopper. We need to listen to the experts, but we also need some assurance that the experts aren’t in the pocket of the business they’re supposed to be watching. It’s not a simple problem, therefore it’s not a simple solution. However, we do need to be working on a solution for the health of ourselves and our kids rather than the health of the sugar industry.