How Big Food is using our health system as a marketing tool.

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 2 Comments

Nestle, Danone and others like them, use our health system as a tool for flogging cheap and addictive powdered milk products.  Regulators have clamped down on them doing it with baby formula, now it is time to stop them doing it to our elderly.

In the early 1970s Nestle decided to exploit mothers in developing countries.  The plan was to convince breastfeeding mothers that using Nestle formulas was healthier for their children than breastfeeding them.

Nestle had realized that many mothers in Africa, Asia and South America had a strong desire to imitate Western culture.  So they leveraged this by implying that formula was the modern way to feed babies.  Anything else was old fashioned and primitive.

The aggressive marketing was extraordinarily effective. Formula sales took off like a rocket (the market is now worth $25 billion a year) but so did the incidence of childhood diseases in the developing world.  Drinking water was often unsafe and mixing it with milk powder and sugar didn’t do anything to fix that.

Breastfeeding protected children from the vagaries of the local water supply.  It is also free and doesn’t drain critically important money away from families who can least afford to buy formula.  The cost often results in mothers using less powder than required to make the tin stretch further.  So even if the water is clean the child is undernourished.

Nestle’s aggressive marketing led, in 1977, to a worldwide boycott of Nestle’s products.  And as a result, in 1981, the World Health Organization (WHO) created guidelines on the marketing of formula, but to this day there are continual breaches in the developing world and many of the groups who started the boycott continue to fight against Nestle and others.

The message was equally effective with Australian mothers.  Manufacturers provided formula ‘donations’ to Hospital nurseries and in hospital promotions often delivered by healthcare workers. And it worked.  Breastfeeding in Australia fell to record low levels in the 1970s.  In 1972 just one in 20 children was breastfed for 12 months.

In 1992 the Australian government finally implemented a voluntary code (based on the WHO rules developed more than a decade earlier) which severely restricted the way infant formula could be marketed and include a requirement that mother’s be told breast is best in all marketing material.  Promotion cannot occur at all on healthcare facilities and healthcare workers cannot receive any form of inducement to promote the products.  If formula is donated to an institution, it can only be used for children who a doctor has determined requires formula.

The code is voluntary but all the major manufacturers has signed on and breastfeeding rates are now 6-fold what they were in 1972 (although they are still just a third of the WHO recommended level).  Even so, Nestle and others continue to circumvent the ban on marketing by advertising unregulated toddler milks with exactly the same packaging and branding as the infant formulas.

But that is just fiddling at the edges compared to the latest gold mine for medical formula reps – the elderly.

Doctors are rightly concerned that older people not suffer from under-nutrition. They take weight loss among the elderly very seriously and therein lies the opportunity for Nestle and others (such as Danone, the maker of the Fortisip range).  These companies actively markets the use of food supplements for elderly patients, whether they are losing weight or not.  Hospitals and dietitians are encouraged to use things like the Nestle Nutritional Assessment tool to assess the need for supplements. Using that tool it would be almost impossible not to be assessed as requiring supplementation.

These powdered milk concoctions are offered as drinks with (or even instead of) hospital meals and patients are provided with order forms (often by dietitians employed by the hospital) for discounted purchase after they are discharged.  The products themselves are usually just hideously overprice powdered milk, sugar and a multi-vitamin and sometimes a dab of seed oil just for good measure.

The ingredients are very similar to Up&Go except they can have loads more sugar and sometimes a pile of seed oil as well.

Fortisip Vanilla Ready to Drink Sustagen Hospital Powder UP&GO Vanilla Ice Ready to Drink
water, maltodextrin, milk protein, sucrose, vegetable oil (canola oil, sunflower oil), tri potassium citrate, emulsifier (soy lecithin), flavour, magnesium chloride, acidity regulator, tri calcium phosphate, carotenoids, choline chloride, calcium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, sodium L-ascorbate, ferrous lactate, zinc sulphate, colour, magnesium hydroxide, nicotinamide, retinyl acetate, copper gluconate, DL-α tocopheryl acetate, sodium selenite, manganese sulphate, calcium D-pantothenate, chromium chloride, D-biotin, cholecalciferol, thiamin hydrochloride, pterolylmonoglutamic acid, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanoccobalamin, sodium molybdate, riboflavin, sodium flouride, potassium iodide, phytomenadione Non Fat Milk Solids (63%), Corn Syrup Solids, Whole Milk Powder, Sugar, Minerals (Magnesium Hydrogen Phosphate, Ferric Pyrophosphate, Zinc Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Sulphate, Sodium Molybdate, Chromium Trichloride, Sodium Selenite), Vitamins (C, E, Niacinamide, A, D3, B6, B1, B2, Folic Acid, K1, B12), Stabiliser (414), Flavour. water, skim milk powder, cane sugar, wheat maltodextrin, soy protein, vegetable oils (sunflower, canola), vegetable fibre, hi-maize™ starch, corn syrup solids, flavours, fructose, oat flour, mineral (calcium), acidity regulator (332), vegetable gums (460, 466, 407), stabiliser (452), salt, vitamins (C, niacin, A, B12, B6, B2, B1, folate).
Sugar: 13.3% Sugar: 45% Sugar: 7.6%
Polyunsaturated Fat: 2.8% Polyunsaturated fat: 0.8% Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.7%

The sugar in Sustagen had until May 2016, been glucose.  But then Nestle decided to ‘improve the nutritional profile’ by replacing the much of the glucose with cane sugar.  Effectively this means they replaced half the nutritionally harmless glucose with toxic fructose.  Yep, the same fructose that has been nailed as causing Type II diabetes, Obesity, Fatty Liver Disease and probably Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few of its greatest hits).

I can’t see how introducing a confirmed source of chronic disease improves the nutritional profile (and they have refused to respond to my written requests for an explanation), but I can see how it improves the financial profile of Nestle.  Sustagen’s competition all use it.  Fructose is highly addictive, so products that contain it always sell better than products without it.  And since the aim of this game seems to be follow on sales after the patient leaves hospital, an addictive product would be a better choice. Commercially its a no-brainer.

The seed oils in many of these products cause cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s Disease osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (just to name a few of the greatest hits). Seed oils are cheap as chips, so using them instead of milk fat increases the profit margin.  Another commercial no-brainer.

These products are being directly promoted and marketed to patients within our healthcare system, something which would be prohibited if they were infant formula.   Nobody, but especially not a sick elderly person, needs sugar and (often) seed oil, loaded milk powder.  Nestle and their mates were barred from using hospitals as a sales tool for infant formula and its time the same thing happened for this garbage as well.

It’s probably not a good idea to smear endocrine disrupting chemicals all over your children’s bodies

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest | 4 Comments

There has been a bit of fuss lately about people getting seriously burnt even though they used sunscreen.  For a while now, I’ve been a little concerned about the long list of unpronounceable names on the back of our ever-present library of sunscreens. Prompted by the latest bout of bad news, I decided to finally do the research I’d been putting off. So far, the results are both infuriating and worrying.

I was a kid during the slip, slop, slap era. We were told (by a seagull with a lisp) to thlip on a shirt, thlop on sunscreen and thlap on a hat. There is absolutely no doubt that overexposure to the UV radiation in sunlight is likely a cause of skin cancer (although probably not melanoma). And so advice aimed at ensuring we minimize that risk is smart. This is particularly true in a country where most of us have a complexion more suited to Norway than the equator.

Staying out of the sun and wearing a hat and long sleeved shirt are all very effective ways of keeping our sun exposure at safe levels. The trouble is doing that is often incompatible with our favourite activities. Young netballers want to look like the Diamonds (who play indoors at night) so wear short dresses with cutout shoulders. We want to spend all day at the beach, not five minutes, and while we’re there we don’t want to be rugged up like we’re on a polar mission.

This has meant that increasingly, sunscreen has become the all-purpose panacea. The Thlip, Tholp, Thlap messaging hasn’t changed but we have decided we can do what we like and dress how we like, whenever we like, as long as we load up on the sunscreen first. Sunscreen has changed from our last line of defence to the only thing we do.

Because sunscreen has become the must-have accessory, the market for it has exploded. And like all rapidly expanding markets there is lots of ‘innovation’ to tempt the consumer from one brand to another.

When I was happily watching the lispy seagull tell me about the virtues of thlapping on sunscreen, I knew exactly what he meant. The tub of white zinc in the bathroom. It wasn’t exactly pleasant stuff. It had approximately the sticking power of superglue and the durability of house paint, but it did the job. No sun was getting through zinc in hurry. But it was difficult to apply and pretty greasy so there was plenty of scope for competition.

Now we can choose from thousands of products. Products for children, products that can be sprayed on, products that can be rolled on, products for sporty people, products to wear everyday and even products for babies. We don’t take time of day or sunniness into consideration at all, even when toting babies, because there’s a sunscreen for everything.

That greasy zinc was a physical barrier. It worked exactly the way house paint would work, by blocking out the sun. Two innovations enabled the explosion of more ‘user-friendly’ sunscreens, pulverizing the zinc so it didn’t stay white on the skin (but still worked) and the use of a whole new class of sunscreen that relied on chemical reactions to diffuse the UV radiation. Those chemical sunscreens are now what make up the majority of the stuff on the supermarket shelf.

Almost all chemical sunscreens sold in Australia are a mix of (generally) 4-methylbenzylidene-camphor (4MBC), Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), Oxybenzone, Homosalate, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane and Octocrylene. And despite the huge variety in prices, labels and bottle shapes, there isn’t that much variety in what’s in them.

The problem with these convenient chemicals is that there is mounting evidence that they are endocrine disruptors – meaning they can affect human hormones (particularly reproductive and thyroid hormones).

4-MBC for example, is not approved for use in the US or Japan because the safety data is not sufficient. It is permitted in Europe but manufacturers and importers in Denmark agreed not to include it in sunscreen products marketed for children under 12. This was then extended to all products to ensure pregnant and breastfeeding women were not exposed (as the chemical was found to be present in breast milk).

Oxybenzone acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. OMC has produced reproductive system and thyroid alterations in animal studies using doses similar to those used in sunscreens. Other studies have raised similar concerns about many of the other chemicals commonly used in sunscreens. Worse than that these substances appear to accumulate in humans (and the environment).

At the moment however, Australian regulators are happy to impose limits on the amounts that can be used rather than ban them outright. This is because they are not satisfied that sufficient quantities are absorbed through the skin to do damage. Frankly that is not terribly reassuring. These assessments typically do not assess the risk from inhaling aerosol or spray sunscreens or from ingesting them (for example by swimming in a pool or beach with people covered in sunscreen).

Similar concerns have been raised about the DNA disrupting potential of nano particles of zinc and titanium. Once again studies have shown them not to be absorbed at significant levels. But that proviso goes out the window when they are sprayed in the air or washed off in the pool.

The chemicals used in most sunscreens are not inert or harmless and many of them are banned in more cautious countries.  But here their use is being championed mercilessly by an industry wearing a health halo. Leading the charge is the Cancer Council of Australia, an organization which itself makes almost $3m a year from selling sunscreens full of these chemicals. We are told to wear these sunscreens all the time and many of us do. Rather than adjust our lifestyle to the reality of dangerous radiation (as our parents did), we prefer to do exactly as we please and slather ourselves with these chemicals.

The evidence is worrying enough for me not to want to expose my kids to those substances on purpose. So we try to avoid being in the sun at all during the middle of the day and if we are, we’ll be wearing a hat and shirt as well as a sunscreen containing the only the ingredient that everybody agrees is safe, Zinc Oxide.

That immediately rules out anything sold by the Cancer Council and all the cheap sunscreens. But Invisible Zinc and many of the herbal gerbil brands are fine. Doing this still doesn’t save us from drinking the stuff everybody else is wearing at the beach and the pool but it’s the best I can do.

Are dietitians selling us out?

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest, Sugar | 9 Comments

Dietitians are rolling out their ritualistic warnings about ‘fad diets’ so it must be January. Prepare to be warned about the dangers of avoiding gluten, quitting sugar or going Paleo. Instead you will be told to give the new (heavy on whole grains) microbiome diet a go or perhaps become a Vegan.

According to dietitians, crazy ‘fads’ like quitting sugar are dangerous because they ask us to ‘cut out whole food groups.’ Only a dietitian high on sugar would describe sugar as a ‘food group’, but I guess the argument could apply to the stricter forms of paleo which ask devotees to ditch dairy, legumes and grains.

If food group deletion is the reason for official opposition to paleo, gluten free and quitting sugar why are they quite happy to give a free pass to vegetarianism and its more extreme cousin, veganism? Both of these diets do actually cut out food groups and both require careful management in order to avoid significant nutrient deficiencies. But they are never attacked by Dietitians.

Vegetarian diets do not contain meat, poultry or fish. Vegan diets go a little further and also exclude dairy products and eggs. Both diets have been part of British and US culture since the mid-19th century so we’ve had a bit of time to study them in the wild.

Those studies tell us that (compared to omnivores) vegetarian diets provide higher amounts of carbohydrates, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium but lower amounts of protein, saturated fat, omega-3 fats, vitamins A, D and B12 and Zinc. Vegans are usually particularly low in B12 and also Calcium, a deficiency they are likely to share with hard-core paleo enthusiasts because both avoid dairy.

We use vitamin B12 to create our DNA, red blood cells and the myelin insulation around our nerves. Not having enough of it can result in fatigue, weakness, psychiatric problems and anaemia. B12 deficiency in children and the elderly is even more worrying. Studies have consistently shown that children and older people lacking B12 suffer significant cognitive defects such as memory and reasoning.

The lack of long chain omega-3 fats, the abundance of omega-6 fats and deficiencies in the fat soluble vitamins A and D are also serious cause for concern particularly in pregnancy.

This does not mean that vegetarian or vegan diets should not be followed, just that they need to be carefully managed, particularly in pregnant women, children or the elderly. But that is what you might expect from a diet that actually does delete ‘whole food groups.’

So where then are the January warnings to avoid those ‘fad diets’? Why are the dietitians’ scare tactics focused only on diets which might stop people eating grains and legumes? It’s a real conundrum.

Coincidentally, the body that regulates dietitians in Australia is sponsored by Arnott’s, Nestle and the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum. And while that last one sounds like an almost official body, it’s really just a long-winded way of saying the Breakfast Club. No not that one, this one is responsible for supplying all those sugary boxes of grain we are supposed to consume as part of a ‘balanced breakfast.’ The gang’s all there. Kellogg’s (coincidentally founded because of a vegetarian religion), Freedom, Nestle (again) and Sanitarium (coincidentally founded, and run by, the same vegetarian religion).

But surely that can’t be the answer? Surely dietitians wouldn’t sacrifice their professional integrity just to grasp a few stray dollars from the Breakfast Cereal manufacturers? No, there must be some other reason which is not fathomable to us uninformed masses. Because if that were the case, it would mean dietitians are really just the undercover arm of Nestle (etc)’s marketing departments. And that would spell big legal (not to mention moral) trouble.

If dietitians have really been selling us out to flog processed food, then collectively they would owe this country the hundreds of billions a year spent treating the chronic disease disaster those foods have inflicted. But even more importantly they owe us something that can’t be repaid, our health.

This is not a game. Australians are no longer prepared to accept dietetic advice which is curiously aligned with the interests of the processed food industry rather than what the science tells us. Now would be a good time for the dietitians of Australia to lead, follow or get out of the way. A good start would be to stop telling us that quitting sugar is a ‘fad’ that should be abandoned. And they can hope like crazy that when the lawsuits start, everyone has forgotten their role in the catastrophe which is Australia’s health in the 21st century. I, for one, won’t.

 

Also published in the Huffington Post

How a Soft Drink Tax (and not science) will change nutritionists’ views on sugar.

By | Conflicts of Interest, Sugar | 2 Comments

For a decade, the guardians of public health have fought tooth and nail against the science on sugar and the harm it causes.  But now that the government might pay more for their allegiance than the food industry, they are all ears.

This week, the Grattan Institute produced yet another proposal for a soft drink tax.  It’s an idea that just won’t go away, no matter how much the politicians want it to.

Convincing people not to smoke results in a measurable health outcome. Smoking is a primary cause of lung cancer and heart disease.  And rates of both diseases have plummeted since the introduction of tobacco taxes.  But this is in the context of tax being part of a package of measures aimed at making smoking slightly less socially desirable than persistent public flatulence.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for sugar.  Taxing one source of sugar will certainly reduce consumption from that source but detailed studies have been so far unable to detect a significant health benefit from reducing the consumption of those drinks alone.  This is likely to be because people simply find a cheaper, or just different, source.  The bloke avoiding the slightly more expensive Coke is probably still chowing down on sugar loaded cereal for breakfast, chugging an iced coffee for lunch and having sugar loaded BBQ sauce all over his sausage in bread.

Until you need to sneak into a dank corner of the car-park to snarf your cream-bun for fear of being hounded by the Heart Foundation, we are not comparing apples with apples.  But tax dollars might just achieve what science has failed to do for at least a decade.

This week’s Grattan report suggested $520 million a year could be raised from an Australian soft drink tax.  The authors didn’t put much thought into what that might be spent on, other than to vaguely waft in the direction of ‘health initiatives’ or some such.  But that was enough to get the attention of some of those who have been the most resistant to the idea that sugar is bad.

The food industry sponsored, Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) for example has steadfastly opposed the notion that sugar is a problem.  After Sweet Poison was released it published a press release entitled “Sweet truths: Eating sugar may not make you fat.”  And it has not wavered from that position over the 8 years since.  Similarly Nutrition Australia, to this day maintains “there is no consensus that [sugar] is the sole, or even major cause” of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The Heart Foundation has so comprehensively opposed the notion that sugar is harmful, that it sent out a cardiologist to consume significant radio time arguing against me on that point.  And it has been willing to raise the better part of $3 million a year from certifying that sugar loaded food is a heart healthy choice. It says this is because “there is no scientific consensus that sugar … causes heart disease.”

Diabetes organisations have also been happy to tell sufferers of Type II diabetes that sugar does not cause their disease.  Meanwhile the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has done its best to not have a position on sugar at all.  And it has certainly never openly condemned it.

But, my goodness what a difference a bit of green makes to one’s outlook.   The first to fall was the Heart Foundation, calling for a sugar tax like the one announced in the UK in May.  Then last week (after it became clear exactly how much money was in the pot), they all rushed in.  Within days of Grattan’s report being released the AMA, the DAA and Nutrition Australia all put out press releases demanding a sugar tax.  Some of them even while continuing to host pro-sugar content on their websites.  Their greed reflex outpaced even the fastest website editor.

Suddenly each of these peak health bodies are singing from a different song sheet. The prospect of loads of tax dosh trying to find a home for ‘health initiatives’ has converted them to sugar haters in a heartbeat.

A soft drink tax won’t directly reduce the amount of sugar we consume.  But the siren call of cold hard cash will apparently do what I and many like me have failed to do for a decade.  It will remove the single greatest obstacle to real progress, the nutrition rent-seekers.

No doubt much to the despair of the processed food industry, the loyalty which had been so painstakingly built over decades with speaking fees, sponsorships, endorsements and carefully crafted non-science will all likely be blown away by government tax money looking for a home.

These tax-payer funded organisations have been perfectly happy to ignore the science for a decade.  They have been happy to dictate health policy that lets ever increasing numbers of us suffer.  And they have been happy to do it because of ego or profit or consensus or stubbornness or all of the above.

I suspect nothing has changed about nutrition industry views on sugar but their collective campaigning (no matter how much it is motivated by greed), will undoubtedly have the effect of telling us all something we desperately need to hear – there is a very real problem with sugar.  And if that’s the way we get there, then so be it.

4 Good Reasons not to add fibre to your diet.

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest | 28 Comments

Nutritionists have been telling us to pump up the fibre in our diet for 44 years.  But the evidence is now in.  Not only is that pointless.  In at least one case, it is very likely to be harmful.

In 1971, Dr Denis Burkitt, an Irish Surgeon, published a paper based on his observations of life in Uganda, where he lived at the time.  In it he hypothesised that a lack of dietary fibre was the cause of much that then ailed Western Society.  He thought it caused bowel cancer and probably also heart disease, Type II Diabetes, varicose veins, obesity, diverticular disease, appendicitis, gallstones, dental cavities, haemorrhoids, hernias and constipation.

Dr Burkitt had noticed that native Africans produced on average four times as much poop as English boarding school children and did so at three times the speed.  He felt that this was because of all the fibre they ate.  And he theorised that the, ah, high rate of flow meant that there was less time for cancer causing foods and impurities to be in contact with our insides.

It was an idea whose time had come and the good doctor quickly became ‘fibreman’, releasing a best-selling book on the topic (a page-turner called ‘Don’t forget Fibre in your Diet’) and crusading ceaselessly for the addition of fibre to the Western diet.  He is famously quoted as saying “America is a constipated nation…. If you pass small stools, you have to have large hospitals.”

His simplistic guess was swallowed whole by the medical and nutrition communities and heavily promoted by those who stood to gain the most from it (largely the Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers).

The shopping list of things fibre is supposed to prevent has gotten shorter as science has delivered better evidence on their real causes but it is still impressive.

To this day, the DAA (Dietitians Association of Australia) claims that eating ‘at least 25-30 grams of fibre a day’ will ‘reduce the risk of constipation, diverticular disease, haemorrhoids and bowel cancer.’ They also mention it will ‘lower the risk of [heart] disease.’

Unfortunately (as is often the case with claims made by the DAA) there is no credible evidence that any of that is true.

Bowel Cancer

In 2002 the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration reviewed five high quality randomized controlled trials involving 5,000 patients.  They concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that increased dietary fibre would reduce Bowel Cancer.

That review was followed up in 2005 by a major evidence review by the Harvard School of Public Health.  The paper covered 13 studies which involved 725,628 people.  And again fibre drew a blank.  The authors concluded that high dietary fibre intake did not reduce the risk of Bowel Cancer.

Heart Disease

The theory goes that fibre is supposed reduce heart disease risk by lowering our ‘bad’ cholesterol. Once again though the research community is being singularly unsupportive.

While oats do lower cholesterol, trials on other types of fibre show that it doesn’t, good, bad or otherwise.

And when it comes to the only thing that really matters, there is no evidence that fibre reduces the risk of dying from heart disease (or anything else).

Constipation and Haemorrhoids

Fibre is supposed to cure constipation (and all its travelling companions, including haemorrhoids, bloating, anal bleeding and abdominal pain).

Believe it or not, this is simply based on Fibreman’s observation of high-flow Ugandans.  They didn’t seem constipated so ramping up the fibre is sure to cure the Western blockage.  Once again though, the evidence has not been kind.

Studies have repeatedly failed to detect that patients with constipation eat less fibre than people without it.  Worse (for the Cereal Industry), those studies have observed that there is no benefit for constipation when fibre is added to the diet.

But something really interesting happens when you reverse the treatment.  A recent trial measured the effect of removing fibre from the diet of people with constipation, with spectacular results.

Six months after the added fibre was removed, ALL of the (initially) constipated patients no longer suffered from constipation, bloating, bleeding or pain.  In contrast the folks who stayed on high fibre diet still had all of those problems.

Diverticular Disease

The news is significantly worse when it comes to Diverticular Disease, an extremely common and painful condition affecting more than half of all people over 70.

As early as 1981, clinical trials were finding that fibre was no help at all.  One author even concluded that the suggestion it might was “simply a manifestation of western civilization’s obsession with the need for regular frequent defecation.”

But much more worryingly, one significant recent study concluded not only that fibre didn’t help but that it increased the likelihood of contracting the disease.

The evidence is now in.  Just like so much of the dietary nonsense we’ve been fed over the last half century, fibre for disease prevention turns out to be twaddle that benefits nobody except the people flogging us whole grain cereals.

A combination of ignorance, arrogance and negligence (with a sizable smattering of corporate profiteering) has kept the eat-more-fibre message front and centre for all nutritional advice.   But we didn’t need added fibre before 1971 and we still don’t need it.  Worse, it is likely to be adding to the burden of diverticular disease (at least).

An Irish doctor’s theory about prodigious Ugandan turds has ensured the rest of us have been fed crap for the last four decades.  But that needs to stop now.  The DAA needs to step up and change the message – even if that is likely to really annoy its cereal selling sponsors.

 

Image: DAA Corporate Partners (via the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council)

Health Star or Death Star?

By | Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 13 Comments

The Federal Government’s Health Star Rating system (HSR to its friends) is being heavily promoted as a solution the nation’s out-of-control obesity and chronic disease problem.  But it has turned into a food industry marketing stunt that is part of the problem not part of the solution.

This week HSR turned 1.  And as any one year old might expect, it got some lovely presents.  The government committed to spending $2.1 million telling everybody what a jolly good idea it is.  And they also cut a cheque to the Heart Foundation to look after the little fella for the next 2-5 years.

It seems everybody has been celebrating.  Sanitarium has been spending up big telling us that Up&Go (20% sugar) has 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Uncle Toby’s have also had the ad makers working round the clock, reminding us that you don’t have to drink your breakfast or have boring old oats.  Your kids can have their terrific 4 star sugar-loaded (25% sugar) oats instead.

The new multi-million dollar ad campaign helpfully tells us the more stars there are (to a maximum of 5) the healthier the food.

The government must be using a different definition of healthy to the World Health Organisation, the Canadian Heart Association and the British Medical Association, (to name just a few), because I doubt any of them would be likely to describe a ‘food’ that is 25% added sugar as healthy.  And yet that is exactly the type of ‘food’ getting the 4 and 5 star ratings in Australia.

Meanwhile, food that has sustained humans for millennia, like butter, coconut oil or yoghurt is flat out breaking the one star barrier.  Even strawberry liquorice (42% sugar) does better than that (2.5 stars).

They all score badly because they contain saturated fat.  For decades that kind of fat has been painted by nutritionists as the dietary villain.  But recent reviews of the science conducted by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends dropping saturated fat (and cholesterol) from its list of nutrients of concern because there is no evidence connecting it with heart disease.

The HSR is a marketing program developed by and for the processed food industry (but paid for by the taxpayer).  Its development panel includes the Australian Beverages Council (whose members include Coca-cola and Pepsi) and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (whose membership list is the phone directory for the processed food industry).

It, like the Heart Foundation tick (which coincidentally appears on all the ‘healthy’ products I mention above) should be used as a guide to what foods to completely ignore.  The less stars a product has the less likely it is to do you harm.

But this isn’t an amusing little sideshow.  People are being actively told by their government to consume products that will unequivocally harm them.  They are being told that high sugar, high seed oil products like Up&Go are the best thing they can eat when the evidence says the exact opposite.

We wouldn’t tolerate a Government sponsored program that actively encouraged children to smoke (for their health) so let’s not tolerate our money being used to market sugar laced, seed oil as health food.

Don’t tolerate you and your family being treated like processed food dump sites.  Write to Sussan Ley (the Minister responsible for this abomination) and tell her you don’t want your money spent on a labelling system designed by Big Food’s marketing department.  And tell her you want your government to base its dietary advice on evidence, not what Big Food needs to sell this week.

Killer Python to get Heart Foundation Tick

By | Conflicts of Interest, Sugar | 9 Comments

Sydney, Australia (10 October 2014):  Nestlé Australia announced today that in an unprecedented achievement for the category in Australia, its popular Killer Python confectionery will carry the Heart Foundation Tick in 2015.

This is the first time that confectionery has earned the Heart Foundation Tick. “We don’t know why we didn’t think of this before,” said Mr Bill Wonka, Regional Director, Nestle Australia. “But once we took a close look at the Heart Foundation Tick criteria, we knew that the Killer Python could become a key part of our promise to deliver superior nutrition to Australian families.

“All we had to do was cut the little buggers in half.  Then suddenly we were under the calorie limit.  They already had no fat and the Heart Foundation doesn’t look at sugar. From today, consumers have a healthier confectionery option that means they don’t sacrifice on taste.  It’s a win for everyone.” he said.

“We are now looking closely at the rest of our confectionary lines and a number of beloved brands are currently undergoing renovations to meet the Heart Foundation’s strict nutrient criteria. Keep an eye out for Chicos with added fibre in the new year.”

“We are proud that Nestle is now carrying the Heart Foundation Tick in a confectionery line. Nestle Australia should be congratulated on their commitment to an extensive reformulation programme that provides Australian families with more healthier choices at snack time,” said a spokesperson for the National Heart Foundation.

“For more than two decades the Tick has been successfully challenging food companies to produce healthier foods. Now, we are challenging more confectionery makers to match the commitment of Nestle Australia.”

Reaction from the public has been mixed.  Clive Parma from Canberra was pleased that the Pythons now had the tick “I was sick of feeling guilty every time I sucked down their chewy goodness,” he said, “Now they are approved by the Heart Foundation,  I know they must be doing me good, even if I do have to buy twice as many.”

Health professionals also welcomed the news. “A 10 year old can now run off a Heart Foundation approved Killer Python in around 30 minutes,” said dietitian Ms Pixie Golightly,  “With the old junk food Pythons, it would have taken almost an hour,”

But on social media the mood has been less positive. “Not fun for the kids at all any more,” wailed Verity Smythe-Jones on Allen’s Facebook page. “my kids won’t touch health food – as soon as they see that tick they’ll avoid them – what chance do I have of getting them to eat the new healthy pythons?” she wrote

Nestle expects the new Heart Foundation approved Treat Sized Pythons to be available shortly.

Note: This is satire – nothing about this piece is true (no matter how close to the truth it might seem)

If the Heart Foundation and Dietitians Association didn’t exist, would the food industry need to invent them?

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 7 Comments

The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Australian Heart Foundation spend quite a bit of their time attacking what they call “Fad Diets”.  Unfortunately, their flat out disregard for the evidence is making their statements sound more and more like press releases issued by the processed food industry.

I don’t pretend to know what is motivating either of them, but I do know that both have financial backing from the industries which stand to lose the most if there is widespread adoption of many of the diets they declare to be fads (for example reducing sugar, seed oils, or more recently paleo).

The Dietitians Association’s sponsors include Nestle (the second largest manufacturer of breakfast cereals in Australia and no slouch when it comes to moving other forms of sugar either), Unilever (largest margarine manufacturer in Australia) and the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (a lobby group funded by all the major breakfast cereal manufacturers)

The Australian Heart Foundation is not overtly sponsored by anyone.  But the processed food industry has found a way to rent the Heart Foundation’s healthy halo.

It’s called the Tick Program. Processed foods can gain endorsement from the Heart Foundation by doing what they were going to do anyway. They wanted to use seed oils instead of animal fats because they are loads cheaper. Tick – foods that use seed oils are given preference. They wanted to use tons of sugar because food with sugar sells better than food without. Tick – sugar is not a criteria. They want to sell breakfast cereals because they are vehicles for sugar (and the margins are stupendous). Tick – whole grains are encouraged for their fibre.

The program is a nice little earner for the Heart Foundation, pulling in $2.8m in 2013 alone. The only problem is that, through the Tick Program, the Heart Foundation now finds itself in the position of having endorsed hundreds of products that the science says are very dangerous to our health.

The World Health Organisation, the Canadian Heart Foundation and the American Heart Association all regard sugar as a dangerous additive to food because there is convincing evidence that it is “associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer and tooth decay.”  But the Australian Heart Foundation is earning millions from its endorsement of products like ‘Mayonnaise’ that has more sugar than Coke, a children’s snack which is 73% sugar and spreads made of the very oils which science says almost doubles the risk of heart disease death.

That is what we lawyers call a conflict of interest. When doctors experience a conflict of interest (say by accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies), the regulators tighten the rules and (no matter how much it hurts the doctors) attempt to put the brakes on the gravy train.

The same thing happens in just about any profession we depend upon for expert knowledge. We have to be able to trust paid specialists. And no matter how morally astute they believe they are, we cannot allow them be led into temptation by conflicts of interest. If we do, we can never be sure if they are giving us advice based on the best evidence or on their own financial interest.

And if by chance you think that the existence of, say, a tick program makes no difference to the advice being dispensed, you need look no further than the Canadian Heart Foundation.  In June, they killed off their tick program.  Before June, they were happily handing out ticks to Slush Puppies and children’s snacks where sugar was the primary ingredient.  After June they were attacking the sugar sellers like they were on commission for the sale of Sweet Poison.

So when the Dietitians Association and the Heart Foundation fly into a frenzy to decry a diet which asks people to avoid processed food, any thinking person would ask, why?  Is there science behind this or have these two venerable organisations simply become mouthpieces for the processed food industry that provides them with such significant financial support?  Such is the corrosive power of conflicts of interest.

There are now very persuasive reasons to worry about their advice that we should consume seed oils (vegetable oils). And there is just as compelling evidence that ignoring sugar is taking a daily toll on the health of all Australians.

We need the Heart Foundation to follow the lead of the Canadian Heart Foundation and immediately trash its Tick program. And we need our dietitians to throw off the yoke of corporate sponsorship and provide evidence based dietary advice untainted by the smell of food industry money.

We don’t need the guardians of our health attacking a scientifically (and logically) defensible aversion to processed food. We need them guarding our health without fear or favour (especially without favour).

The Canadian Heart Foundation comes down hard on Sugar

By | Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Sweet Poison | 7 Comments

In June this year that Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation (the Canadian HSF) killed off its ‘Health Check Program.’  Just like the Australian Heart Foundation’s ‘Tick Program’, the HSF Check had been plumbing new lows in prostituting health advice to the interests of the food industry.

Perhaps it was when it took money to put a ‘Check’ on Slush Puppies or maybe it was when they endorsed a children’s snack that was 80% sugar.  Maybe it was just the combined weight of the evidence against sugar, so neatly summarised by the World Health Organisation in January.  But whatever the cause, eventually they did the right thing and said no to Food Industry money.

Now that the interests of their sponsors count for naught, they have released a powerful position statement on sugar.  In a single document they have catapulted themselves from handmaiden of the processed food industry to the world leader in health policy.  They have looked at the evidence and made a persuasive case for immediate action on sugar.

Pay attention Australian Heart Foundation they are making you look like the fools that you are.

In Canada In Australia
No less than 17 major studies are cited in support of a statement that sugar is associated with:

  • heart disease,
  • stroke,
  • obesity,
  • diabetes,
  • high blood cholesterol,
  • cancer and
  • tooth decay.
“sugar … [is] only important in relation to [tooth decay]. … There is no scientific consensus that sugar … causes heart disease.”
Sugar consumption (from all sources) should be no more than 10% (12 teaspoons per day – less than half current Canadian consumption) and preferably less than 5% (6 teaspoons).  “Rather than making choices based on sugar content alone see what else a food offers nutritionally.”
Food labelling needs to be significantly improved to show sugar content properly [sound of crickets]
The Government should:

  • act to reduce the amount of sugar in the food supply
  • tax soft drinks
  • support education programs aimed at reducing sugar
  • restrict marketing to children
  • avoid partnerships with producers of high sugar foods
  • Ban the sale of sugary drinks in hospitals and schools
  • Educate parents on how to avoid sugar in the lunch-box
[more crickets]
The Heart Foundation recommends people avoid packaged and prepared food. The Heart Foundation earns money from the sale of packaged food where sugar is a primary ingredient in the product.

 

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