Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sugar

It is an old theme on this blog but, in my view, the major cause of the obesity-diabetes epidemic in modern societies (developing and developed) is related to excessive sugar consumption. A sugar soft-drink or sugar-laden fruit juice drink per day increases the chance of a woman contracting diabetes by 80%.

Sweets, soft-drinks and fruit drinks, cakes, biscuits, alco-pops, pizza were once seen as 'treat' consumption items. For many people they are now routinely consumed as regular food along with carbohydrate-dense but nutritionally impoverished bread and rice products as well as increasingly saccarine fruits.

Casual inspection suggests to me that more than half of the isles in a modern supermarket push high sugar products such as soft-drinks, sweets, flours, cakes, biscuits, breads, bread spreads etc - essentially all sugar-dense, low-nutrition foods.

Lee Smith drew my attention to a useful article on our overconsumption of sugars in today's Age. It is an excellent read.

In my view Dr. Aikins was right. Our diets would be much better based on a mix of healthy proteins and fats with an end to bread and the ubiqitous bread roll. Lots of salads and green vegetables should be consumed, much less potato and generally a reduced obsession with high sugar fruits such as the over-ripe sugary apples, bananas and oranges that doting mums force down their childsren's throats on the mistaken impression that the sugar in them is somehow safer than that in a lollypop.

To assume that adults are well-informed and can (and should) make rational choices for themselves and their children is naive. Most adults are obsessed in their food-selection habits with fat content - they will select a 'no fat' muesli bar as a snack even if it is mainly a sugary 'treat'. Bread and rice are part of most people's everyday diets yet they are primarily just a source of simple carbohydrates that are broken down almost immediately on injestion into sugars.

Taxing sugary foods is impractical (and regressive) but advertising high sugar foods probably should be restricted and that certainly soft-drinks and fruit drinks should be banned from school canteens. I think the composition of the worst types of sugar-indulgent junk food, such as Krispy Kremes Doughnuts, should be exposed and publicised.

The best way of addressing diabetes and obesity issues is to change peoples attitudes to food and to encourage the private sector to deliver foods which are not sugar-dense. Bacon and eggs is a wonderful breakfast and McDonald's hamburgers make a reasonable lunch if you ditch the bread roll in the bin.

I have been working on other economic issues for the past few months but intend resuming my economic work on nutrition and health policy in the second half of 2008.

5 comments:

Mark U said...

Harry

Have you seen these articles about the US siutation?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A8003-2003Mar10?language=printer

http://www.parsintl.com/pdf/11824-NYT-CornRefiners.pdf

Anonymous said...

Harry Bacon and eggs is a shockingly bad breakfast for you. It fried making and therefore very unhealthy.

conrad said...

HC,

its suprising how you believe in discredited ideas like the Atkins stuff (check the US CDC) given the work you do.

Why not look at places people are not generally overweight and what factors contribute to it? The most obvious places are those in East Asia where people also have the highest life expectancy, like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong etc -- these people can essentially eat as much as they want given their wealth, yet don't. In addition, their diet is not protein heavy -- it is in fact quite balanced (including plain old rice).

I think the short story is that if you have a balnaced diet and don't eat too much, you won't become fat. This isn't genetic -- there are lots of fat second generation East Asians in places like the US and Australia.

hc said...

Conrad, There is some evidence of a fat gene as we have discussed before and some evidence that evolution has left us with bodies poorly equipped to deal with abundance.

I like Atkins because he shifted the emphasis away from fats to carbohydrates. I think he is right in this emphasis.

We have reduced fat consumption as obesity and diabetes have sky-rocketed. The theory requires revision.

The Japanese eat a lot of fish, bitter melon and green veggies which are entirely consisdtent with Atkins.

conrad said...

Lets look at the problem another way.

Selecting just rich coutries, what do you think the correlation is between diet type (i.e., percentage of carbohydrates, fats etc. eaten) and obesity ?