Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see such august bodies uniting behind an anti-sugar campaign. It’s just a pity the message is so riddled with caveats, exceptions and contradictions as to render it almost completely ineffective. Or was that the point?
The campaigning trio called for action on sugary drinks by “governments, schools and non-government organisations such as sports centres.”
Kellie-Ann Jolly, acting CEO of the Heart Foundation urged the Federal Government to “implement restrictions to reduce children's exposure to marketing of sugary drinks." She went on to suggest that State governments should also limit the sale of sugary drinks in schools and sporting grounds.
The CEO of Diabetes Australia, Greg Johnson, wanted even more direct action, calling for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The call to action was because these drinks are “associated with a range of serious health issues including weight gain and obesity, which in turn are risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular (heart) disease and cancer.”
The sugar in soft drinks must be magic. You see when it’s mixed with water it apparently makes you fat and gives you diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But when the very same sugar constitutes 72% of a children’s lunch box snack it is so healthful that it deserves a great big Heart Foundation Tick of approval. And when it makes up almost a third of Uncle Toby’s Oat Gourmet Selections or Kellogg’s Just Right breakfast cereal it gets a tick as well.
But the real sign of its magicness is that it is not always dangerous even when the only other significant ingredient is still just water. Fruit Juice is sugar and water but that is not on the radar of the newly minted crusaders against sugary drinks. Apparently sugar molecules that were once part of a piece of fruit are not evil but those that were once part of a piece of sugar cane (despite being chemically identical) are deserving of taxation and prohibition.
Soft drink is an easy target. No-one is suffering under the impression that a can of Pepsi is health food and not even the Beverage Association at its most brazen would attempt to convince us that it is.
Confected rage on the part of the magnificent three is token (at best) for as long as they continue to ignore (or endorse, in the Heart Foundation’s case) the vast majority of sugar we are sold under the label ‘health food’.
Sugar is sugar. It’s just as dangerous when it’s the primary ingredient in a Heart Foundation approved children’s snack as it is when it’s sloshing around in a bottle of Coke. The Heart Foundation in particular robs this campaign of any shred of credibility for as long as it accepts payment from the processed food industry to endorse their sugar filled ‘health’ food.
The evidence supporting the campaign has been available to these organisations since at least 2007. Despite this, the Heart Foundation in particular has publicly and actively denied that sugar presented any health problem at all. Indeed as recently as 2011 they said
“based on the current level of evidence, sugar is not directly linked to [heart disease], diabetes, or obesity.”
That’s right, the exact opposite of what they now say about the sugar in soft drinks.
They must have found their library card because now it appears they’ve finally caught up with decades of research and mustered the gumption to acknowledge (some of) that evidence – albeit in half-hearted and non-revenue-endangering fashion.
The research on dietary sugar intake is just as damning as the evidence that has now convinced them to act on soft drink. Sugar doesn't suddenly become dangerous when combined with water and bubbles. It’s dangerous all the time.
How many people million more people need to suffer from the lifelong debilitation (of Type II Diabetes) caused by the sugar added to everything we eat before Diabetes Australia is prepared to accept that evidence. How many more deaths from Heart Disease need to occur before the Heart Foundation is prepared to bite the corporate hand that feeds it?
Until those who are supposed to care, stand up and acknowledge the obvious, the suffering will continue. Until the Heart Foundation are prepared to say no to corporate sponsorship and demand action on all sugar, their gormless flailing at the easy targets will render them less and less relevant. In this age of profit driven, processed food we need real, independent advocates not corporate flunkies.