What do you do when a strategy you’ve been executing for almost 30 years is plainly not working? If you’re the nutrition hierarchy in Australia, apparently the answer is you just keep doing what you’ve always done.
Shouting about the vitamin benefits of a food while blithely ignoring the other 99.99% of the product is not a new tactic in the processed food industry. Streets want every child to get their ‘afternoon calcium’ (and Vitamin B12 and Phospherus) from their Paddle Pop Moos. They proudly proclaim every single ice-block has the calcium of ‘1 Glass of Milk’ but leave the fact that it is 20% sugar to the small print.
Nestle would rather the kids get their daily calcium (and magnesium) from its (Heart Foundation approved) Milo Duobreakfast cereal (30% sugar) or a nice (Heart Foundation approved) chocolate Billabong (18% sugar). Really health conscious kids are encouraged to get “50% of their wholegrain target” by chomping on some Uncle Toby’s Oats, So Tasty for Kids (30% sugar).
For that after breakfast snack, Kellogg’s wants you to feed your young iron-men Nutrigrain Bars and perhaps give the other kids some nice (Heart Foundation Ticked) K-Time Twists (both 37% sugar). And don’t even get me started onLCM’s (also 37% sugar) and their schoolyard commercials.
I guess you could (almost – at a very big stretch) justify that kind of marketing if there was any evidence (whatsoever) that the average Australian needed any more of those Vitamins or minerals. Vitamin supplements have only been part of our food supply since just before the second world war. Prior to that our Grandparents and their grandparents managed to struggle through life without any supplementation at all.
The need for vitamins only arose because two hideous diseases reached epidemic proportions in the early part of the 20th century. In south-east Asia beriberi was rampant because (it turned out) Europeans had started using steam driven mills to turn brown rice into white rice (and in the process stripping out Vitamin B1). And at almost the same time in the southern United States pellagra was inflicting mass agony because Europeans had decided that treating raw corn with lime (a process the Indians had used for millennia to activate the Vitamin B3) was a waste of time and money.
South East Asians derived almost all their nutrition from rice at the time and poor farmers in the southern United States derived almost all of their food from corn. Messing with those two fundamental food sources resulted in mass deficiencies which led to disease. The only other two significant deficiencies which have (in modern times) resulted in widespread disease are scurvy (if you happen to be locked in a boat without access to anything but dry biscuits and rum for six months) and rickets (if you use too much sunblock).
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people living in Australia today have no more risk of being functionally deficient in any vitamin than I do of becoming the Queen (of England that is). Our bodies are extraordinarily efficient at extracting exactly what we need (and no more) from our food (mostly from meat) and excreting the excess. If you are inclined to the I’ll-top-em-up-just-in-case persuasion, the research suggests you are just flushing your money away.
One of the most thorough (but by no means, not the only) recent studies was the Physicians Health Trial. In that study, 14,641 US doctors were followed for 10 years while they took either Vitamin E or Vitamin C supplements, the two vitamins which are heavily promoted as having anti-oxidant (and therefore heart disease related) benefits.
Half of the doctors were actually taking placebos instead, but neither they nor the folks assessing the results knew which was which. The double blind (no-one knew who was taking what), randomized nature of the trial (together with its large size and long duration) means that it is very high quality evidence.
The point of the trial was to figure out whether the supplements had any effect at all on heart disease and stroke outcomes among the participants. And what they found would have been very disappointing for the supplement industry indeed. There was exactly no difference between the heart disease outcomes for any of the groups.
The Vitamin E folks had just as many heart attacks as the Vitamin C folks. And they had just as many as the folks taking nothing. The resounding conclusion from the study is that if any of the participants had been paying for their vitamins, they would have been well and truly wasting their money (for ten long years). While we certainly need Vitamin E and Vitamin C, it seems shoving more of it in our mouths changes absolutely nothing (except the bank balance of the folks selling the supplement).
Similar high quality trials on Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B supplements have arrived at exactly the same conclusion – don’t waste your money. And as the makers of Berocca have just discovered, making claims to the contrary can get your expensive advertising campaign banned.
Despite our extraordinarily efficient efforts at mining food for nutrients, we can damage our ability to use the vitamins and minerals we do absorb. Sugar consumption interferes with copper metabolism which can result in impaired muscle growth (in children) and problems with vein and artery wall formation. It also leads to impaired iodine absorption (and therefore thyroid hormone production) and degrades our Chromium stores (which leads to insulin resistance and Type II diabetes) just to name a few of its more delightful features.
Vita-Gummies (at 23c a throw) are about 8 times the price of garden variety gummi bears (which are aren’t laced with precursors to expensive urine) but they do contain just as much life sapping sugar (something which unfortunately ends up around our waist and not down the drain).
Selling ice-creams and lollies as health food (to children and their parents) when they are in reality a package of pure sugar is unbelievably perverse. Engaging the services of Hayley Lewis’ hard earned reputation to do it is just plain deceptive.
Unfortunately nobody is breaking any laws telling us that a sugar loaded sweet (with a vitamin chaser) is good for us. And so the marketers go to town. But where do we draw the line? Chocolate coated carrot shavings, sold as Vegies the Kids Will Love (no, Nestle that is not a suggestion)? This pathetic game must stop. It’s time for truth in labelling. Surely our children are worth that much.
It’s January, the month of the diet. Prepare to have the secret of weight loss bestowed upon you every time you pick up a newspaper. But the reality is we have no more chance of losing weight on a ‘diet’ than we do of flying by flapping our arms.
No matter how special we’d like to think we are, when it comes to our body, we are just mammals. Ok we’re pretty bright mammals (well you are, if you’re reading this). But for all that braininess, the carcass we walk around in is 100 per cent pure mammal.
Just like every other mammal, we have a sophisticated mechanism for making sure we keep functioning. On auto-pilot, we keep our heart beating, our lungs pumping and our temperature stable. We also ensure that our brain (and every other cell in our body) has exactly enough fuel to perform at its best (regardless of what’s going on in the outside world). None of this requires a moment’s thought (literally).
The control system for all of these (and infinitely more) processes is our hormones. Hormones tell our bodies when (and how much) to grow. They tell (some of) us when to prepare for making babies. And they control how much fat we store (and where we store it).
We can’t control our hormones with will power (or any other conscious thought). We can no more think ourselves taller (or shorter) than we can think ourselves a lower body temperature.
A child grows because hormones tell every (relevant) part of the child’s body to grow. The hormones instruct the cells to demand more energy and other hormones accommodate the demand by up-regulating appetite control. The child eats more and has the building blocks for growth. The growth drives the appetite, not the other way round.
The science is now abundantly clear that another type of growth (this time horizontal) is also hormone driven. Our appetite control hormones are exquisitely balanced to ensure we have just the right amount of energy on hand.
But when that balance is disrupted, our fuel management system can veer wildly out of control. A disrupted appetite control system can store too little or too much fuel. Too little looks like anorexia, too much looks like, well, most of us. Obesity is a symptom of a failure of the balance of hormones controlling how much food we take in.
This hormone dysfunction causes us to store too much fat in our cells, but the body is not aware the fat is there and keeps demanding food. Our appetite control system thinks we are starving even while we have more than enough fat being packed away (usually in very unsightly places).
A growing child can’t fight hormone driven appetite demands with willpower. And we can’t control weight gain with willpower either.
When an obese person restricts the amount of food they eat, they are not changing the underlying error in the appetite control system. The body thought it was starving before the diet, now it’s really starving. It will not use the fat store to satisfy its need for food because the hormonal disruption means it doesn’t even know it’s there.
The hormones will force the body to sacrifice muscle and even organs to make up for the missing calories. And the whole time, the dieter will feel like they are starving to death. No wonder no-one can stay on a diet (long term).
Obesity is a symptom of appetite control dysfunction, but it is not the only one. Heart disease, type II diabetes, kidney disease and dementia (to name just a few) are all symptoms of the same underlying disorder. And just like symptoms of any disease, not everybody has all the symptoms appear at the same time.
Not all Kidney disease suffers are obese (but most are). Not all heart disease victims are obese (but most are). And 15 percent of Type II Diabetes suffers are not overweight.
We are frequently told that the ‘cure’ for most of these diseases is cure the ‘disease’ of obesity (and the way to do that is to eat less and exercise more). But that is the same as being told to take panadol to ‘cure’ a toothache. It will (temporarily) eliminate (or reduce) a symptom, but it does absolutely nothing for the underlying cause.
Recent studies have proven beyond doubt that we can induce all of the symptoms of appetite hormone disruption in humans by simply feeding them the fructose half of sugar. The cluster of ‘symptoms’ of the fructose appetite disruptor is currently costing our health system more than $60 billion (three times our defence budget) a year. And it is costing individuals much more than that (in quality of life) every single day.
But so far there is no sign that those in charge of our health dollars are prepared to look any further than the ‘panadol cure’.
The plan is to keep telling fat people they are fat because they make ‘poor choices’. The plan is to tell people to control hormones with willpower. And the plan is (apparently) to continue to support the explosive growth of industries which take our money to ‘cure a disease’ (when all they are doing is masking a symptom).
Lap-banders, shake-sellers, liposuction merchants and wellness providers will continue to lobby government for more and more public money. And (when they give in) health bureaucrats will justify the expense with (increasingly) bellicose demands that we trim down. But the science says we can expect that Plan to have just as much success as it has in the last four decades (during which overweight and obesity rates have doubled).
A change of course will be a great embarrassment to many eminent ‘health professionals’, but change course we must. So as you flip through the avalanche of calorie reducing diets from the New Year health gurus remember panadol doesn’t cure rotten teeth. And we will not cure obesity until we start treating it as a symptom rather than a disease.
The science is now very clear. Sugar consumption causes type 2 diabetes. But our governments persist with programs that try everything except removing sugar from the diet. Is it any wonder we are being overwhelmed by a diabetes epidemic?
The Treasurer’s Intergenerational Report (released in February) soberly warned that treating diabetes must be a financial priority. Treasury estimates that by 2032-33, “Costs from diabetes alone are projected to increase 436 per cent, from $1.6 billion to $8.6 billion.”
Diabetes Australia thinks that (scary as they are) those numbers are likely to be a vast underestimate. They reckon almost 15 percent of the population already suffer from Type 2 diabetes (or pre-diabetes). Worse still, those numbers are going in only one direction – up, big time.
Governments haven’t been sitting on their hands waiting for the diabetes tsunami to wipe out the health system. In 2007, the Council of Australian Governments decided to spend $204 million to reverse the significant growth in type 2 diabetes. The Commonwealth Government announced that it would focus the funding on people at high risk of type 2 diabetes using something called “Subsidised Lifestyle Modification Programs” (SLMP).
Despite the disturbing name, the idea was that when GPs identified an ‘at risk’ individual they’d be told to go and get a SLMP. The SLMP involved accredited allied health professionals providing nutrition and exercise information designed to steer the punter away from becoming a diabetic.
Well the results are now starting to come in, so how did the SLMPs go?
The Health Department’s review of the program for the 2009-10 tax year concludes that uptake of SLMPs is “below the level anticipated.” Ya think? – just 680 people (out of an expected 45,500) bothered. I think we can safely conclude the government’s big gun in the war on diabetes has turned out to be somewhere between wishing and hoping on the scale of effective disease prevention measures.
But that may just be a good thing (or at least not a bad thing), because the evidence is that nutrition advice delivered in accordance with the current national guidelines is completely ineffective. A paper released by the Australian Productivity Commission this month concluded government funded childhood obesity (a strongly associated risk factor for diabetes) interventions to date “have not been effective in stabilising or reducing obesity prevalence to any significant degree.”
So it’s timely that last week the Harvard School of Public Health published the results of its meta-analysis of the research on the relationship between sugar sweetened drinks and diabetes. They reviewed eight high quality studies which involved 310,819 participants and 15,043 cases of Type 2 diabetes. Each of the underlying studies was significant in its own right and all had been concluded between 2004 and 2010.
All but one of the studies revealed a strong (and significant) association between sugar and diabetes. Taken together they showed that consuming one or more soft drinks (or fruit drinks or vitamin waters) per day would increase your chance of contracting type 2 diabetes by 26 per cent.
As convincing as this meta-analysis is, it just confirms what a very strong series of studies (on the link between soft drinks and diabetes) have been saying for over six years now. But the research has recently gone much further than mere population level correlations.
Last year researchers at the University of California fed volunteers diets supplemented with fructose drinks (the dangerous half of sugar). The result was a 20 percent decrease in the effectiveness of clearing the glucose out of the bloodstream – step one on the Type II Diabetes treadmill. And other recent studies have shown that when carbohydrates (including sugar) are pulled out of the diet, Type II Diabetes symptoms are actually reversed.
But if that wasn’t enough, there is even more powerful evidence of a link. Nestle Australia and CSR Sugar both go out of their way to say exactly the opposite. CSR says “There is no evidence that eating sugar causes diabetes” and Nestle chimes in with “eating sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes.”
The Californian study lasted just 10 weeks (and clearly longer term studies are needed) but taken together with last week’s meta-analysis, red flags are waving all over the place. Sugar consumption creates type 2 diabetics. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then that as our per person sugar consumption soars past 1 kg per week, type 2 diabetics are being minted at the rate of 275 per day (and counting).
In the face of a deadly epidemic (accelerating at epic proportions) why do our healthy eating guidelines persist in advising that there’s nothing wrong with a diet that’s 20 percent sugar? Why won’t you find any warnings about not eating fructose on the Diabetes Australia website? And why is the Australian Diabetes Council saying it wants to “end the myth that sugar causes diabetes.” (!)
Besides being our 6th biggest killer, type 2 diabetes is the most common cause of blindness (for people under the age of 60) and responsible for more than 9 limb amputations a day in Australia.
Luckily, the science says this dreadful disease can be stopped easily – just eliminate sugar from the food supply. So how about we pay attention to what the science is (repeatedly) telling us and give that a go before we waste more time and money on interventions that patently don’t work?
The week before last, I said that dietary advice emanating from Australia’s “peak body of dietetic and nutrition professionals” (the DAA) needed to be treated with caution. I pointed out that the DAA is the recipient of significant sponsorship from the food industry. I went on to say that this may inevitably lead to (at least the perception of) a conflict of interest.
Nestlé is the world’s largest food company. Headquartered in Switzerland, it operates 456 factories and employs 283,000 people worldwide. Much of its business revolves around making us fat. And since that side of the business is doing so well, it has decided to branch into the diet industry too.
Nestlé is the name behind a vast range of sweeties (Kit Kat, Wonka, Smarties, Aero, Violet Crumble and Allen’s Sweets to name just a few) and their range of ice-cream is second to none (Peter’s, Dixie, Skinny Cow and Connoisseur are all part of the portfolio)
They also do a nice range of sugar filled ‘health food’. Including things like Fruit Fix (72% sugar), Nesquik (99% sugar), Milo (46% sugar), muesli bars (up to 31% sugar) and a huge range of cereals (under the Uncle Toby’s brand), boasting healthy gems like Healthwise (30% sugar) and Oats Temptations (34% sugar).
It’s perhaps a little less well known that Nestlé is also the company behind some of the biggest brands in the weightloss industry. They own the Optifast diet shakes promoted strongly by the doctors at the Wesley Hospital Weightloss centre, the Musashi brand of shakes and supplements for serious gym junkies and even the Lean Cuisine range of frozen diet meals.
I found all of those brands by looking (carefully) at the Nestlé web site. But strangely I didn’t find any mention of their biggest weightloss business – Jenny Craig. That’s right, Jenny Craig, the little ole diet outfit founded in Melbourne in 1983 (and purchased by Nestlé in 2006 – for over $800 million) is now one of the biggest weightloss corporations on the planet.
The science on sugar consumption is unequivocal. Eating large amounts of sugar is the most effective way to pile on the unwanted kilo’s. It’s also the most effective way to ensure you’re a candidate for heart disease and a list of other conditions that doesn’t bear thinking about.
By definition, Nestlé’s diet products and Jenny Craig programs are sold to people who are overweight. So Nestlé is selling those people a “cure” to a condition which was in no small part caused by consumption of Nestlé’s own products.
Ok, so Nestlé has spotted a growing (pun intended) market and made sure it’s got the products to address the need. Their shareholders would be disappointed if they didn’t do this. But its ethically dubious (putting it mildly) to sell people a substance which makes them fat and then sell them the ‘cure’ (without at least telling them you are the same people doing the selling).
If the cure doesn’t actually work (and the purveyor knows this) then we are well on the track to outrageously unethical (if not downright immoral) corporate behaviour. So, does Jenny Craig work?
A systematic review of the published research (on commercial weightloss programs) conducted in 2005 revealed that of the 1,500 available studies only 10 (!) met the inclusion criteria relating to study quality (because many studies are very short term, very small studies usually sponsored by the entity selling the diet). The researchers couldn’t find a single credible study of Jenny Craig and, of the rest, only one was a high quality, multi-site randomized trial.
That trial (of Jenny Craig’s primary competitor, Weight Watchers) found that if you could convince people to stick to the diet for two years (less than three quarters did), they lost a whole 3 kilograms (they started at an average of 94 kg and ended at 91kg after two years! – where do I sign up?). And for that privilege the dieters paid US$167 every three months (or US$445 per kg lost – which by the way is significantly less than an equivalent Jenny Craig diet would cost).
Granted, that study was based on Weight Watchers and not Jenny Craig, but it seems this astounding lack of success is not a one-off observation.
A 2007 UCLA review of 31 credible long term weight loss studies found that most people on calorie restricting diets (such as that promoted by Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers) initially lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. But they also found that the majority of people regained all the weight (plus a bit more) within 12 months. Sustained weight loss was found only in a very, very small minority of participants.
In the computer software industry, a persistent conspiracy theory about anti-virus software manufacturers has always bubbled just below the surface of acceptable dinner party chit chat. The theory goes that most of the worst viruses are in fact written by secret skunkworks sponsored by Antivirus software makers (the people being paid to get rid of them). By constantly creating new viruses, the need for their cures grows exponentially.
The software virus theory has never been proven (and probably never will be). But when it comes to what we put in our mouths, exactly that kind of thing is going on right before our eyes (if we care to look).
Sugar is a highly addictive substance that sells product. A food maker will always want to have more sugar than the product next to theirs on the shelves. Unfortunately it has the side-effect of making us fat.
If having a sugar loaded product means the customer gets fatter, then (from Nestle’s perspective) that’s another market opportunity. If the cure to the fatness is only temporary (and doesn’t cure the addiction to sugar), so much the better. Then you’ve got both sides of the business generating repeat income for each other.
Maybe Nestlé knows all this (and plans things this way) or maybe they’re just lucky, but whether Nestlé knows it or not, selling the disease and a non-cure sure isn’t hurting their (expanding) bottom line.
The Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) last week released the results of a 16 year study that says full-fat dairy reduces the risk of heart-related deaths by sixty-nine per cent. But rather than applauding the new work, the Heart Foundation put up the shutters. Are they worried the emperor has no clothes or is money the real problem?
The study (published in the prestigious European Journal of Clinical Nutrition) followed the dairy consumption of 1,529 adult Australians aged 25-78 years. The participants were asked about their dairy intake on three occasions (1992, 1994 and 1996). The results were then cross-matched to National Death Index data between 1992 and 2007.
The data showed a significant relationship between the consumption of full fat dairy and heart disease deaths. But not the one you might think. The people who consumed full-fat dairy had a sixty-nine per cent lower risk of death by heart attack than those gritting their teeth and gulping down low-fat milk.
The QIMR study comes on the back of a significant US study on heart disease risk published in April. In that study a group of 6,113 average American adults was divided into five groups based on their sugar consumption.
One of the groups was a standout on many of the traditional measures for heart disease risk. They had the lowest fat consumption (just 28.9% of total calories – the Heart Foundation recommends keeping it under 35%). They had the lowest saturated fat consumption (just 9.7% of total calories). And they had the lowest cholesterol intake by a country mile (only 238mg).
This group were poster children for the low-fat lifestyle. There was just one little problem, their blood work was awful. On average the folks in the low-fat group had by far the worst blood cholesterol and triglyceride (blood lipid) readings of all five groups. And they weren’t just bad, they were time-to-order-some-drugs bad.
Just like the QIMR participants, the people doing everything right (from a fat consumption perspective) were the ones most likely to end up dead from a heart attack. Interestingly (in the US study), they were also the one’s eating the most sugar.
It’s all well and good to notice correlations like that, but to have any value as a scientific observation, there has to be plausible explanation for why it might be so. A pair of studies published in 2000 and 2007 may just provide that explanation.
In June 2000, Dr Krauss and his team over at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Department of Molecular Medicine at UC-Berkeley published the results of experiments they had been doing on low-fat diets.
LDL cholesterol (or ‘bad cholesterol’) particles come in a range of sizes. People can be divided into two main groups according to which size is most common in their blood. Some people have mostly large LDL particles (Pattern A) while others have mostly small ones (Pattern B). Pattern B are the ones who tend to die from heart disease.
Which pattern you are is largely a matter of genetics. But Dr Krauss found a way to convert a perfectly healthy Pattern A person to Pattern B (heart attack waiting to happen). Just put them on a low-fat diet.
Then in 2007, some researchers in Switzerland found another way to convert Pattern A to Pattern B – have the patient consume sugar. So it seems the two most excellent ways of ensuring a high risk of heart attack is to either be on a low-fat diet or eat lots of sugar.
If that was what you were aiming for, you wouldn’t find it too tricky. The vast majority of low-fat foods are higher in sugar than their full-fat brethren. Eating a low fat diet kills two (fat) birds with the one stone. Slurping up a Diet Yoghurt lowers your fat intake and increases your sugar intake – all at the same time – how efficient.
Faced with the latest evidence from a high quality Australian research team (at QIMR), the Australian Heart Foundation didn’t suggest the issue needed investigation. They didn’t even pretend that they might look at the research and its implications.
No, (rather like the Church of England faced with Darwin’s theory of evolution) they responded to the new evidence with outright denial. In a story about the study which aired last week, a Heart Foundation spokesman said “we strongly recommend to people to have no fat or low fat products in their diet.”
Perhaps the Heart Foundation is in denial because it fears a sudden change of course (after decades of touting the ‘low-fat’ message) might scare the horses (that would be, um, oh that’s right, us). Or perhaps there are more sinister motives leaching out of the stack of money it makes from endorsing low fat (and often high sugar) products with the tick program.
Let’s not forget there are real lives at risk every single day in the battle against heart disease. The Heart Foundation is one of the primary (and most trusted) providers of advice on heart health. For that reason, it receives significant financial support from the Australian public on the understanding that it has our best interests at heart (pun very much intended).
The evidence is mounting that the advice being dispensed is just plain wrong, but the Heart Foundation seems unable see it. If the obvious commercial conflict can’t be resolved then the tick program needs to go. The Australian public needs to hear the truth about what causes heart disease – a low fat diet, lots of sugar or both.
The Victorian government is forcing fast food restaurants to tell us how many calories are in their meals. Premier Brumby says this will “drag back” the “runaway train” of Type II Diabetes. But the science says there isn’t any real point to showing us how many calories are in a burger (or anything else). And the evidence (from places that have already been there, done that and bought the T-shirt) is that it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to what we eat anyway.
Most food contains 4 calories of energy per gram of food. The exceptions are fat (which has 9 calories per gram) and alcohol (which has 7). So a difference in the calorie content of two similar weights (or serves) of food really is just another way of saying one has more fat than the other (or more booze, but I don’t think anyone is worried about that at Macca’s).
We are exceedingly efficient at using our calories. The 150 calories in a glass of apple juice would let us ride a bicycle 8 km, but the same energy (in petrol) would only push a car 250 metres.
Our appetite control is also exceedingly efficient at making sure we don’t consume more calories than we need. Our hormones are so sophisticated they can even tell the difference between fat calories and calories from everything else (and adjust accordingly).
The science says sugar contains an appetite hormone disruptor (called fructose). With sugar in our diet, our bodies can no longer tell when we have had enough calories. Sugar gives our bodies permission to keep on eating and we don’t stop until we are physically restrained by the size of our stomach (or jeans). When that problem, well, passes, our broken appetite control gives us permission to keep eating until we’re stuffed again.
The result is that we are eating way too many calories, but fabulous as they are, our hormones can’t read a calorie sticker slapped on a board out the front of a KFC (even assuming any of us really knew how many we were supposed to be eating anyway). Our broken appetite control is the reason that Diabetes (and obesity) is a run-away train, not a lack of calorie labelling.
Because all a calorie really measures is (relative) fat content, the processed food industry isn’t all that bothered about calorie labelling. They’ll happily slap a calorie count on a can of soft drink (full of appetite hormone disruptor) because they know it comes out looking pretty good next to an equivalent quantity of milk (soft drink – 150 calories v unflavoured milk – 240 calories).
The sugar in the soft drink will make us want to eat more of everything but it’s the milk (which actually fills us up) that comes out looking sorry on a government mandated calorie counting sign. Sugar is effectively invisible on that sign. Indeed they could add more of the addictive substance and not materially affect the calorie count (especially if they use it to replace fat).
The Victorian plan is a straight copy of the calorie labelling laws enacted in New York City in mid 2008. But a Yale and New York University study on the effect of the laws (completed in October last year) showed the effect was exactly – nothing.
The researchers interviewed customers at multiple restaurants in four fast-food chains (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and KFC). They collected 1,156 receipts from customers two weeks before the laws were introduced and four weeks afterwards. A similar population in a state without the law was used as the control.
The locations were chosen because of a high proportion of obesity and diabetes among poor minority populations. So if Premier Brumby’s runaway train theory was correct, these were exactly the people who should react to the signs.
In New York and in the control city, the average customer ordered a meal with 825 calories before the laws came into effect. Afterwards the New York customer had bumped their order up to 846 calories but the control customers were still ordering the same.
People were ordering more calories after signs were introduced! While that’s probably just a statistical anomaly, there’s certainly no suggestion the signs had any effect at all on what people ordered.
Never ones to be troubled by evidence of effectiveness, other states are now piling on to the Victorian bandwagon. The South Australian and New South Wales Governments think it’s a terrific idea and are rushing to implement.
Laws like this fit all the criteria for high visibility politics, so our elected representatives are drooling over them. Every time we walk past a Government mandated calorie sign (and ignore it) we can be reminded how much our politicians are looking out for us.
Everybody wins. The Pollie looks like he cares about our welfare and is on the job. The Nutritionists cheer them on because they are being listened to. And the food manufacturers know it won’t affect sales anyway.
The only loser is – well, ah – us. We will still get fatter and still get Type II Diabetes (but everybody knows those fat chickens will come home to roost on someone else’s watch) – bon appétit!