A little note from Warren

One of the real benefits of writing is that you often get to hear from new and interesting people. My piece about the Australian Heart Foundation last week inspired quite a few folks to plunge electronic quill into digital inkwell and dispatch missives in my general direction.

Leigh Sturgiss, executive director of the New Zealand Obesity Action Coalition tipped me off about another heart foundation having a bit of form in this area. She told me about the biffo involving Nestle across the ditch. Apparently in the Land of the Long White Cloud, even Nestle Milo is considered tick-worthy. The New Zealand Heart Foundation bestowed one of its ticks (identical in design, purpose and use to its Australian equivalent) on a ‘food’ which is 47.6% sugar.

The tick was featured as part of a national TV ad campaign in August last year telling people they could now say ‘Yes to Milo’. All sorts of people managed to get hot and bothered about that. Nutritionists stomped their feet and (not unreasonably) asked how on earth a product which is half sugar could get a heart foundation tick. The heart foundation leapt to Nestle’s defence and pointed out that if the product was consumed in small amounts and with low fat milk then it was ok. Strangely relying on children to consume chocolate in small amounts and seek out low fat milk as a strategy didn’t seem to placate the malevolent protesters.

But it’s all ok now, you see Nestle decided to drop the tick from Milo packaging at the end of April this year. “We just decided to pursue a different strategy”, said Nestle’s Maurice Gunnell and added (somewhat enigmatically) “… it served its purpose.” The ‘different strategy’ appears to have something to do with affixing Australian Heart Foundation ticks to the likes of Fruit Fix (72% Sugar), Milo B-Smart (with ‘only’ three quarters of the sugar of full strength Milo) and Billabong Ice-Blocks (to name a few).

Another correspondent who I shall call Warren was deeply troubled by my ignorance of the facts about sugar and saddened by my suggestions concerning the Australian Heart Foundation. Wozza is unusually shy for a member of his profession. You see he is a card carrying practitioner of the dark arts of public persuasion (PR and Corporate Communications). He marked his email ‘eyes only’ for me. Nevertheless he made some points (I’m sure entirely on his own behalf) which I feel should be discussed more publicly, so I’ll refer to them in a general sort of a way.

Oh, I almost forgot, a quick glance at Warren’s web CV (you know the one you didn’t know you had until you googled your own name) suggests a company he founded was once employed by none other than the Australian Heart Foundation to assist with, ah, communication advice. But I’m sure that had nothing to do with his need to express his anger at last week’s piece.

After affectionately describing the article as a load of nonsense, Woz went on to tell me a thing or two about sugar consumption. He concluded that there is ‘LESS sugar available in prepared food than ever before’. Really Woz? Ever?

At the start of the Second World War the average Australian consumed less than a third of their sugar from processed food (the rest they added themselves). By 1993, almost three quarters of their sugar was put in their food before they bought it. Even if our ‘two lumps in the cuppa’ habits had not changed in that time, food manufacturers made sure that our total sugar consumption grew significantly. The average Aussie now gulps down almost a kilo of sugar a week, but much like an industrial game of ‘Where’s Wally?’, I challenge you to find it.

Remember, of course, that even if you could track the sugar (from processed foods) down, you wouldn’t be able to add Fruit Fix to the list. The sugar in those little fellas is ‘all natural fruit sugar’ and is not included in the 50 kilo (per person per year) total for cane sugar consumption.

Warren then let me into a little secret. You see as well as being a master of the fifth estate, he’s right up on all the science on sugar metabolism (well at least until 2000, he concedes). He says the science doesn’t back me up and he ‘defies’ me to present substantiation. I know it’ll come as a bit of a surprise to Warren, but science didn’t stop in 2000. The boffin’s have managed to add quite a bit to the pile of human knowledge in this area in the last nine years.

Since many of my dear readers have probably got some interesting grass to watch growing or some newly moist paint to observe drying, I won’t enumerate the (over 3,000) studies on which I rely. I can however recommend a very tidy summary of some of the more pithy ones in an excellent round-up paid for by the University of California, the American Diabetes Association and the US Department of Agriculture. Woz, you’ll find that in your November 2002 copy of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Oh, sorry, too recent for you isn’t it? Well here’s a link for your edification.

For the medically inclined, there’s an even nicer (but more estoric) summary in the January 2006 edition of Nature’s Journal of Clinical Practice: Nephrology.

All of this begs the obvious questions. Why is it left to a flak (that’s the technical term for Wozza’s profession) and lawyer (that’s the technical term for my profession) to debate the science? Why is the heart foundation missing in action? Why are they (and their NZ Confederates) handing out ticks to high sugar children killers? Why can’t Warren afford the cover price of a (truly excellent) book which summarises all the recent science?

Now this probably isn’t the reply that Woz had in mind when he sent his little ‘eyes only’ note. But I take particular exception to folks (who have a reasonable chance of being a mouthpiece for someone else) wanting to have secret discussions with me about the science. Warren, if you’ve got something to say, there’s a comment section at the end of the article. If you are saying it on behalf of someone else then direct them to the same section. Let’s have no more little private notes handed round the class behind the teacher’s back.

Also published in Crikey

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