Where’s the F word … err fructose … in healthy children debate?

By February 2, 2010Uncategorized

Governments are often criticised for not putting in the hard yards when it comes to forward planning. They start building desalination plants after we run out of water. They start adding lanes to freeways after traffic is at a standstill. They build more power stations after the black-outs start.

But there’s no way you could accuse Paul Lucas (Queensland’s Health Minister) of such poor planning. He’s already building the infrastructure necessary to treat the victims of childhood obesity in 2014.

Back in 2007, the Queensland government implemented a series of initiatives aimed at reducing childhood obesity by 33 % by 2020. Smart Choices would force children to eat healthy food at school and Smart Moves would force children to exercise for at least half an hour during school time.

The policies are very similar to programs for healthy eating and exercise implemented as part of the UK’s Healthy Schools initiative. Those programs were kicked off in 1999 because surveys in 1995 had shown that a quarter of British kids were overweight or obese. In Queensland we took until 2006 to reach that particular milestone, hence the delay (I guess).

The British programs have met with resounding failure. Now almost a third of English kids are overweight or obese. And the prediction is that the numbers will be truly diabolical by 2050.

The presumption underlying the Smart Moves program is that sport prevents obesity in children. But an extended study of the UK program to be released this week suggests that is likely to be nonsense.

After a decade long study of children in the UK, the researchers have concluded that increased physical activity is unlikely to reduce a child’s weight. For years nutritionists have told us that kids are fat because they don’t exercise. But the study concludes that the opposite is in fact the case.

Overweight children eat more and exercise less because they are fat, not the other way round. When you think about it that has a certain logic to it. We are perfectly happy to accept that when children grow taller they demand more food, so why wouldn’t we accept that when they grow fatter they do the same.

We are also happy to accept that a pregnant woman puts on weight (and eats more) because she’s preggers. And just like a pregnant woman, an overweight child, exercises less because it is much harder to move when you are carrying extra weight. Less exercise is a side effect of weight gain not the cause of it.

Growing taller happens because of the work of growth hormones in the child’s body. Pregnancy happens … well, you know why … and also involves hormones. Growing fatter also happens because of the work of hormones.

Appetite control hormones precisely regulate the amount of additional weight gained, but sugar (or more precisely, the fructose half sugar) has been shown to disrupt the operations of those hormones. But fructose limitation is not on the menu for the Queensland government any more than it is in Ole Blighty.

Just like its British equivalent, Queensland’s healthy eating in schools program focuses on the anti-fat dogma trotted out by nutritionists for the last five decades. It has little concern for sugar unless it has been added. Soft drinks are coded ‘red’ because of the added sugar and can only be consumed twice per term (maximum). But juices with identical (or higher) sugar content are coded ‘amber’ and can be consumed every day.

I asked Paul Lucas about that contradiction in July last year. In my request I supplied him with references to many of the recent studies on the damage done by the fructose half of sugar. Paul finally got around to having a minion reply to me in the New Year.

The minion agreed that diets high in added (his emphasis) fructose were indeed undesirable because fructose promotes weight increase, chronic disease and increased circulating fatty acids. But he points out that fruit juice is high in naturally occurring (my emphasis) fructose not added fructose. As such there is no need to change the policy.

Ah, I see. So somehow the very act of adding fructose to water rather than removing the fruit from the fructose and water (juice) must magically transmogrify the fructose from a healthy substance to a dangerous substance. I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

As much as Paul is having his minion trot out the party line, it would seem that he has one eye on the ‘success’ of the British programs. On Sunday he announced that in 2014 Queensland will have its very own childhood obesity treatment clinic. When Smart Moves and Smart Choices produce the inevitable increase in childhood obesity, Paul will be there ready with the ambulance parked at the bottom of the chronic disease cliff face.

How many children need to be sacrificed to nutritional dogma before the science on fructose crosses into the political domain. Do all our kids need to be overweight or suffering from diabetes before we acknowledge that the ‘fat makes you fat and exercise makes you thin’ advice is just plain wrong? Or can we start doing something about it now? Maybe, just maybe, if we did, by the time that brand new clinic is open for business, they won’t be needed.

Also published in Crikey

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • sl says:


    Following the link regarding fructose disrupting appetite control mechanisms takes one to the report in ‘Science Daily’. The add in the banner at the top of the Science Daily page, at least when I went there, was for ‘Ocean Spray – 100% grapefruit juice”. !!

    Steve L, Armidale

  • Al Gallo says:

    While trying to put some suggestions for improvement of the Health policy of the Australian Greens, I’ve had a look at the health policies (or lack of them) within all the other political parties. What I’ve found is surreal. For a start, I have confirmed that use the word ‘health’ is the object of the most contemptuous misrepresentation one could imagine, to the point where sickness or medical intervention are openly called ‘health’. The extent of the universal brainwashing of politicians by those in charge of the medical industry is really mind-boggling. Calling the black white is so rampant that the whole population seems to have been fully desensitised.

    Al Gallo
    Far North Queensland

  • razen says:

    I thought that fructose occurred naturally in fruit, sucrose in cane sugar etc and glucose in grape.Are you saying we shouldn’t eat fruit?

  • Razen,

    All of those sugars occur in most fruits vegetables (and even grasses, like sugar cane).

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat any of them in their natural state (with the fibre and water still intact), merely that you shouldn’t extract the sugar and eat (or drink) only that.

    Fibre mitigates the effects of fructose (to an extent) which is why I say its ok to keep eating fruit, just be careful how much you eat. I suggest no more than 2 pieces per day in an otherwise fructose free diet.


  • Readers of David Gillespie’s blogs be interested to know that it is now more than two weeks since I first attempted to get David to reply to a series of questions in a comment about his blog entry titled ‘Attack of the Chocolatier’.

    My questions cut to the core of David’s treatment (or rather mistreatment) of the science that he claims underpins his book ‘Sweet Poison’. David hasn’t answered any of my questions.

    By refusing (or perhaps more appropriately not being able) to answer those questions, David is tacitly admitting that the science behind his book ‘Sweet Poison’ is fatally flawed.

    As I have demonstrated in other comments on the ‘Attack of the Chocolatier’ and in my Ockham’s Razor program (ABC Radio National) of 10 Jan 10, David Gillespie is not a reliable source of information on the health effects of fructose.

    The questions are:

    (i) In light of the evidence provided by Rosemary Stanton that there has either been no increase or a slight decline in food intake in the last 30 years (see my comment sent on January 29, 2010 at 8:48 PM), do you still believe that food intake has increased by 30% in Australia in the last three decades?

    (ii) Taking into account your claim that average Australian intake of fructose is about two-thirds the average intake in the US, and that the US intake accounts for 9-10% of total energy intake (references provided in my comment sent on January 29, 2010 at 10:10 PM) do you still claim that almost 20% of our energy intake is now derived from fructose?

    (iii) Noting that the authors of the 1985 paper by Reiser et al. [Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Aug;42(2):242-51] refer (more than once) to a ‘… lack of relationship between the onset of the abnormalities and the type of dietary carbohydrate’, do you still claim that fructose consumption was the cause of severe heart conditions in four participants in that study?

    (iv) Noting that at least 19 human fructose-feeding studies were conducted after 1985 (references provided in my comment of January 30, 2010 at 6:02 PM) do you still claim that no further human studies were conducted following that date?

    (v) Noting that the World Health Organisation recommends that the maximum safe intake of added sugars is 10% of total energy (or rather just short of 10%); that the NHMRC dietary guideline is to ‘consume only moderate levels of sugars and foods containing added sugars’; that the American Heart Association sets safe upper levels of intake of 35 g of added sugar for men and 25 g for women, and that 12 of the 19 references to human studies conducted in the period 1985-2007 reported positive or, at worst, neutral effects attributable to fructose, do you still believe that added fructose is a poison in the diet at any dose?

    (vi) Given that the NHMRC in Australia and ACSM in the US (and other national health authorities) recognise the value of physical activity in weight control, do you still believe that physical activity has no role to play in weight control?

    (vii) Noting that the conclusion of the most recent meta-analysis (in the December 26 edition of Clinical Nutrition) concludes that ‘There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive …’, do you still insist that fructose—the relevant component of sucrose in this context—is addictive in humans?

  • Tyciol says:

    Umm, certain things are a little oversplific here. It’s true that obesity makes exercise harder, but it’s also true that reduced activity is part of the factor (along with food) that causes it to happen.

    Looking for a first cause seems like a losing battle, this is a multifaceted feedback loop.

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