Why copy US university system? It’s the world’s worst

By | Education, Media, Print | 2 Comments

Australia has one of the highest equity, best performing Tertiary education systems in the world.  Now the government wants to toss that model in the bin and copy a system which is comprehensively failing to deliver benefits for its students, employers or taxpayers.  Please tell me we aren’t about to destroy our higher education system because our Education Minister really, really likes Americans.

Just like taxpayers in every developed country, Australian taxpayers help fund higher education with direct payments to Universities and low interest loans to students.  We do that because the benefits to the country in having highly educated people generally outweigh the costs.  And in Australia we get especially good value for money.  We are one of only 5 OECD countries where public benefits (higher taxes and reduced welfare) are higher than the costs to the taxpayer.

When it comes to taxpayer contributions to higher education, Australia is the the 7th cheapest country in the OECD (just ahead of Columbia, the US, Japan, the UK, Korea and Chile). Here taxpayer funds cover just 45.6% of the cost of Tertiary education, way below the OECD average of 69.2%.

We may be cheap but our higher educators are kicking some pretty serious goals when it comes to the outcomes that matter.  Our graduates have the 5th best literacy proficiency in the OECD (on par with the best in the world, Japan, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden).  We’re only 12th best in numeracy, but that is still well above the average for the OECD.

Even when it comes to research, our bargain basement Universities are up with the big spenders. We are second only to Sweden in the percentage of GDP devoted to University R&D.   And we are spending proportionately three times as much as our neighbours in the cheap seats, Chile.

We manage all of that with one of the most accessible and equitable university sectors on the planet.  Here, 17% of school leavers entering Higher Education are from the lowest quartile of the population. And that rate has been steadily climbing, up from 15.7% in 2006.  In the US, the trend is very much in the opposite direction, dropping from 12% in 1970 to just 7% now.

We have a cheap-as-chips, high performing tertiary education system, but now the government wants to make us even cheaper by shaving a fifth ($1.7 billion a year) off the taxpayer contribution.  The only way to do that and still have a higher education system is to ask the students to contribute even more.

If the funding cuts were the only changes being proposed then we would justifiably fret about whether taxpayers really would get monkeys if we pay (less) peanuts.  Yes, it would cost the individual more to get the education they want and yes, that may impact on the number of people likely to want to do the things Australia needed them to do. And yes that may result in lower tax collections, more debt and more welfare.

But none of it would be immediately catastrophic.  And any damage could be easily reversed if it started to look ugly.  If only the same could be said for the other little change the Minister for Education wants to make.

As a bit of a sweetener for the G8 (Group of Eight largest universities in the country), the Education Minister has decided to allow tertiary institutions to charge whatever they like and the government will still pick up its part of the bill.  And it’s worked. Instead of G8 Vice-Chancellors baying for the Minister’s blood over the huge cuts, they are thinking of electing him Pope (or something).

The Minister has done this because he wants our University system to be market driven just like the US.  He feels that is the only way to get our Universities in the top 100 in the world (as determined by just about everything but the quality of the students they produce).  And if that’s the goal then copying the US is probably as good a way as any of doing it.  It’s just a pity it will destroy Australia’s high equity, high student outcome, tertiary education system in the process.

Just like the privatised US Health system the privatised US higher education system is a case study in market failure.  Even though US citizens and taxpayers spend more on universities than any other country, the US comes in 15th out of 34 OECD countries when it comes to educational attainment.

It is a system divided into outrageously expensive premium universities (which is the prize our G8 are eyeing off) and a large swath of cheap back to basics institutions.  Neither the expensive few, nor the rest, produce desirable outcomes for the student population.

American college graduate academic performance is abysmal and sliding fast.  An Australian graduate is almost twice as likely to get a job as their US counterpart. But it will personally cost the US graduate 4 times as much and the US taxpayer 50% more.

This is what happens when you destroy equity in an education system.  Do we really want to copy that?

First published in The Courier Mail

Image courtesy of patpitchaya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Uniforms a weapon in the school marketing wars

By | Education, Media, Print | 2 Comments

School uniforms increase equity and decrease bullying. But school choice is leading to significant upscaling of uniform costs at exactly the same time as the government removes financial assistance aimed at defraying those costs. The result will be sharply less access to our education system for those who depend on it the most.

I served my time at primary school in a selection of government schools in Western Queensland in the 1970s. It was the dawn of “school choice”. The federal government was yet to dabble in funding private education so almost everybody went to either their local public or their local Catholic. And there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two (except the government schools tended to have more money).

We all wore pretty much the same uniform. Cotton button-up shirts for the boys and checked dresses for the girls, khaki for the public kids and blue for the Catholics. The only distinguishing feature was a school badge which was usually pinned to the collar. It was a simple, cheap uniform that could be bought from any supermarket.

Roll forward four decades and much has changed. We have many more choices about where we send our kids to school. This marketisation of schooling (school choice) is increasingly driving schools to see the school uniform as a branding exercise. And it’s not just the swanky independent schools giving their uniforms a zhoosh. Increasingly public schools, especially those which become “independent” are using their uniforms as a weapon in the marketing wars against each other and their private competitors.

Blazers, ties, cotton shirts and formal school dresses are starting to be part of the required “kit” and all of it is intentionally different to anything you can pick up at Kmart. This inevitably and significantly increases the costs of those uniforms.

Suddenly uniforms are no longer a way of keeping us, well, uniform. We are no longer on an even playing field. There are those who can afford the gear and those who can’t. And those who  can’t, frequently choose not to attend school at all. As Julia Gillard once said (as part of announcing subsidies for school uniforms) “having a uniform helps undercut the kind of unhealthy competition we can see at schools to have the latest, most expensive, fashionable gear”.

Most Australian state governments maintain schemes aimed at defraying the costs of education incidentals (such as uniforms) for those who need it most. In Victoria, the scheme is called the Education Maintenance Allowance. It pays up to $300 per child a year to help with education costs. In 2014 the allowance was paid to a quarter of the state’s schoolchildren (more than 208,000 kids). Next year it will be paid to nobody because the state government has killed the allowance. In 2016, the Feds will join the party by cancelling the Schoolkids Bonus, a similar scheme worth up to $842 per student a year.

In place of its allowance the Victorian Government has implemented a scheme of increased funding for schools in disadvantaged areas but the disbursement of the money is entirely at the discretion of the school principal. It turns an administrative entitlement into a degrading demonstration of need at the school gate (not to mention competition for that terrific new professional development course, the principal had their eye on). Worse than that, it will completely exclude disadvantaged children who happen to attend schools in more advantaged areas. There will be no replacement for the Schoolkids Bonus.

The OECD has closely examined the relationship between the equity of a country’s education system and its performance, and decided: “The evidence is conclusive: equity in education pays off. The highest performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine high quality and equity.

When the OECD ranked the equity of the various education systems in 2007, Australia came in just a little below average (lagging behind Italy and Switzerland but ahead of France, the United States and the United Kingdom). And as the OECD suggests might happen, that result seemed to predict our plummeting academic ranking. Each new round of international testing tells us we are falling further and further behind.

You don’t need to have won the Nobel Prize in economics to calculate that, at a time when parents need more help than ever with uniform costs, pulling the economic rug from under them is likely to have dire consequences for many families. And the destruction in equity that will follow, will have even more disastrous consequences for the performance of all of our children, uniformly.

First published in The Age

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)

The Real Food Tick of Approval

By | Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 14 Comments

Most modern deaths are caused by diseases which barely affected anybody 200 years ago.  And the science says that between them, sugar and seed oils are responsible for almost all of those deaths.

The twin innovations of commercial sugar production (which made food addictive) and seed oil manufacture (which made food cheap to construct) has completely transformed our food supply in that timeframe.

Almost every packaged food now contains significant quantities of sugar or seed oil or (more usually) both.  But far worse than that, it almost impossible to tell from that packaging (other than the fact that there is packaging, that is) whether a given food is safe or not.

I propose a simple way to tell the difference.  Introducing, the Real Food Tick of Approval.  The rules are very simple:

  1. All whole food qualifies for the Tick
  2. Any packaged food which contains more than 1.5 grams of fructose per 100 g does not qualify
  3. Any drink which contains fructose (at all) does not qualify
  4. Any packaged food or drink which contains more than 1.5 grams of Omega-6 fat per 100 g does not qualify
  5. All other food qualifies for the Tick

To see how this works in practice, check out my free, foods database.  In it I have applied these rules.

The database is not perfect, it is using an automated formula (which tries to use fibre content to guess which are whole foods) to do the coding.  This means it doesn’t properly take account of Rule #1 (at this stage), so there will be obvious errors – but you get the gist.

Most things coloured green would get the Real Food Tick.  And the application of a little nouse would eliminate the obvious exceptions (for example Apricots in Intense Sweetened Liquid)

Most of those coloured yellow or red would not qualify. But there are whole foods which are particularly high in fructose (for example a Pink Lady apple) or Omega-6 (for example Peanuts).

Neither of these whole foods are coloured green but Rule #1 says they should qualify.  With those I would suggest, they still deserve the Tick (because they are whole foods), but it should be a yellow tick rather than a green one, merely to indicate that more than one serving of these foods should not be consumed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts (in the comments below) on the proposed Real Food Tick.

Graphic based on an Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fat school fees no guarantee for top results

By | Books, Education, Media, Print | No Comments

Monday, 29 September, 2014, 5:44pm
Karen Pittar life@scmp.com

Australian lawyer and businessman David Gillespie grew up in Brisbane and was educated at one of the city’s top private schools. But as he and his wife were mulling over where to send their six children, the “eye-watering sums” involved at elite institutions prompted them to consider alternatives.

It also led Gillespie to examine what it was that made a school, and an education system, effective. The result is Free Schools (Pan Macmillan), a book that challenges many widely held beliefs about quality education, especially in Australia.

“I wanted to find the answer to the question: if I spent millions of dollars on education, was that money well spent?” he asks. “Would it guarantee a better result for my children?”

His conclusion was an unequivocal “no”.

“Going in, I had no agenda and no preconceived ideas about what makes an effective school. What I did know was a lot of educational research is hard to understand and seems to be based on hunches – very little of it on hard facts and trials,” Gillespie says.

What surprised him most was that many factors parents assume to be important in schooling mattered very little.

Chief among these assumptions is that high fees equalled a superior education.

Wealthy families dominate in independent or private schools, he says, but “studies have consistently shown when you adjust for the socioeconomic status of children in independent-versus-government systems, both are equally effective. Paying more for education will get you nicer buildings and your child can hang around with kids of ‘his class’, but then we have to assume that’s a good thing?”

Similarly, Gillespie argues smaller classes do not necessarily lead to better learning and higher grades.

He refers to the Australian system as an example, where class sizes 50 years ago were double what they are today. Smaller classes meant increased spending to employ more teachers; yet Australia is slipping in the global education rankings.

“Classes need effective teachers who can manage students and maintain order,” he says. If behaviour is a problem and not well managed, there will still be a problem, whether it’s a class of 12 or 20.

Homework is another contentious area. A 2006 study at Duke University, in North Carolina, showed there was no benefit to assigning homework to primary schoolchildren. Gillespie says recent research suggests there may be significant downsides because it takes up teachers’ time with marking and setting homework.

However, he concedes some studies show that homework is helpful during high school.

Ultimately, Gillespie says an effective school depends on one thing – leadership: of the school and in the classroom.

Every four years the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, releases the results of its Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which evaluates the skills of more than 500,000 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading.

Hong Kong came in the top three for each discipline in the 2012 Pisa report – an impressive ranking out of 65 countries including the US, Britain and Australia.

Gillespie says schools that do well tend to adopt a collegiate approach, where principals and senior teachers still teach some of the time, but spend most time supervising junior teachers in the classroom, making sure they are learning to be better teachers. Senior teachers are not turned into administrators: they are turned into teacher-mentors. “This is what gets results.”

To retain good teachers, you need strong, accountable and involved leadership, he says.

Gillespie suggests parents visit potential schools and also interview the principal.

“What you want is someone who describes their team as professionals who work together to get the best results – that their role as a leader is to help teachers, to mentor them.”

His book also outlines other areas that parents should consider when selecting schools, such as its language and music programmes, communication and behaviour management.

“Look for a school that provides study skills – it’s all about learning to learn,” he says. “It is often assumed children learn by osmosis, but they don’t – they need to be taught the skills to do it effectively. Does the school offer language and music programmes? Consistently, study after study shows, that by just learning a language or a musical instrument – it doesn’t matter how good you are at it – this improves results.”

He says the general behaviour of students is another critical indicator because no one can learn or teach effectively if children are behaving badly.

“A great way to assess this is to look at the uniform. It’s [author] Malcolm Gladwell’s broken windows theory: if kids in a suburb break a window and it isn’t repaired, then they break another and so on – a small misdemeanour turns into a bigger one.

“Uniform policy is the same. You want a school where no deviations are accepted. Even if the school doesn’t have a specific uniform they will still have a dress code; find out before you visit what that is and make sure the children are complying.”

Finally, Gillespie says a successful and productive school is one that communicates with parents.

“An effective school will offer programmes that run parents through what is being taught and how it is taught – ‘these are the concepts and this is how to teach/reinforce it at home’.”

Parents should be active participants in education, he says. Rather than simply applying to elite private schools, parents should be focusing on those that can offer effective leadership.

Like any other organisation, the ethos and work ethic of school filters down from the top.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post.

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).

How to ensure you’re not firing blanks (a cautionary tale for men and anyone who cares about the quality of their sperm)

By | Big Fat Lies, Vegetable Oils | No Comments

Sperm counts are dropping rapidly in all Western countries.  In one, the situation is so dire that finding a man who is capable of reproducing is likely to be impossible by 2030.  For the rest of us, that reality is not that much further into the future. New science suggests the cause is clear and the solution is even clearer.  Don’t let men (or boys) eat vegetable oil.

A sperm count is an old fashioned, but still highly reliable way of measuring a man’s, well, potency.  Anything over 100 million sperm cells per ml is considered a premium vintage and anything under 15 million means the man is very unlikely to reproduce.  The only trouble is that men with high octane semen are getting harder and harder to find.

In 1992 researchers from the University of Copenhagen published a study of sperm quality trends over the preceding half century.  After reviewing 61 trials, the scientists came to the shocking conclusion that the average sperm count had halved in just 50 years (from 113 million in 1940 to 66 million in 1990).   Yep, men really were more manly in the olden days.

An even more comprehensive analysis of almost 27,000 French men published in 2005 confirmed the trend is continuing.  In that study average sperm counts dropped from 74 million in 1989 to 50 million in 2005.  If the decline continues at the same rate, there will be no French men capable of making babies by 2072.  And no matter how you feel  about the French, that is a catastrophe of unprecedented scale.

Similar numbers and rates of decline are now being reported in all Western countries (although alarmingly at 3% per annum, Australia is at the high end).   But in one country, the sperm count disaster makes the French look pretty damn virile.

Sperm banks in Israel are reporting that the alarming drop in sperm quality amongst Jewish inhabitants. Sperm banks that would have rejected about a third of applicants in the 1990s (because of low sperm count) are now turning away 80 to 90%.  With a measured rate of sperm count decline approximately twice that of any other Western country, experts are predicting that by 2030, average Jewish Israeli sperm counts will drop to a level where reproduction is likely to be impossible.

There are many theories about why this is happening as there are scientists researching the problem.  Perhaps it is the increased levels of oestrogen in the diet, perhaps it is exposure to pesticides or perhaps it is the use of BPA plastics.  But only one has produced convincing evidence of causation – dietary omega-6 fat consumption.

Omega-6 fat is the dominant fat in the ‘vegetable oils’ used in every processed food.  These oils are not made from vegetables at all.  Rather they come from seeds (like Canola, Soybean, Sunflower, Safflower, Rice Bran and Grape).  Western consumption of Omega-6 fats has at least tripled in the last century and perhaps more importantly, the ratio of Omega-6 fats to Omega-3 fats has soared from about 3:1 to 25:1.

We’ve known for some time that in experimental animals, high omega-6 fat consumption lowers sperm count and significantly impairs the quality of those that remain.  But a 2009 study in humans has taken that research one step further.

In that study, 82 infertile men were compared with 78 (proven) fertile men.  Detailed profiles of the fatty acid makeup of each man’s blood plasma were prepared.  The results were unequivocal.  Infertile men had a significantly higher ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3  (15 to 1 versus 6 to 1 in fertile men).  And critically, the higher the omega-6, the lower the sperm count.

It is likely that the reason for the sperm cell destruction relates to rampant oxidation caused by the overconsumption of omega-6 fats.  Unfortunately that kind of oxidation damage leads to the wholesale DNA destruction that can result in cancer.  Perhaps then it won’t shock you to discover that the incidence of testicular cancer (the most common cancer in men under 50) has more than doubled in the last 40 years.

Because of a decided preference for non-animal fat sources, Israeli Jews have the highest consumption of Omega-6 fat in the world (about 12% of calories).  The science says this is why they are at the bleeding edge of the decline in male fertility.  It is also likely to be why the incidence of testicular cancer has almost doubled in just 10 years (compared to the 4 decades it took the rest of us).

Before you tell me you’re ok because you always cook in olive oil, you should know that the oil we add is a very small part of the fat we actually consume.  Vegetable oils made from seeds are much cheaper than animal or fruit fats (such as Olive, Avocado or Coconut Oils).  Because of this, they are now an integral part of margarine and baked goods and bread and salad dressings and pestos and meal bases and frozen food and, well, every other product (with a label) in our supermarkets.

It is also increasingly a significant component of grain fed meat (most of the meat in a supermarket) and even farmed fish (most of the fish in a supermarket). And it is just about the only fat used to fry take-away food in 21st century Australia.  In other words, it is almost impossible to avoid unless you grow and assemble your own food.

There are as many good reasons not to consume seed oils, but I reckon the future of the human race probably tops the list.  Food companies are doing nothing less than committing biochemical genocide by filling every food we eat with omega-6 fats. We are having our reproductive capacity disabled en masse and far from protesting against it, our health authorities are actively encouraging us to consume more.  Ask the Australian Heart Foundation whether it thinks you should consume more of these poisons and you will be told most definitely ‘yes’.

Fortunately there is one thing you can do if you care about your ability to reproduce (or avoid testicular cancer). Stop eating Vegetable Oils made from seeds or any food made from, or fried in, them.

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

 

Why is the ABC censoring debate on anti-cholesterol drugs?

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest | 5 Comments

Last week the British Medical Journal did something that the ABC, our so called independent broadcaster, was terrified to do just a few months earlier. It stared down an attack from the pharmaceutical industry over articles it had published on the dangers of statins (cholesterol lowering drugs). But it’s not too late for the ABC to stop behaving like a drug company marketing department and start behaving like an independent national broadcaster.

In October 2013, Dr Maryanne Demasi, produced a two part series for the ABC’s Catalyst program. The first part suggested saturated fat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease. The show was enormously popular, pulling an audience of 944,000, something which is unheard of for the staid science doco. But it was the promo for Part 2 that really lit up the switchboard.

The Second Part promised to delve into statins, the ubiquitous anti-cholesterol drugs prescribed to a third of Australian adults over the age of 50. Even before it was aired there were strident calls for the show to be killed. One particularly hysterical radio presenter even warned that watching the show may cause people to stop taking statins – something that “could kill them.”

Nevertheless, in a rare display of courage, the ABC risked our lives and ran the show anyway. As promised, it dared to suggest that statins are not everything the marketing spin would have us believe. They are frequently prescribed for people where there is no demonstrated benefit, and they present significant and potentially life threatening side effects. Almost a million Australians tuned in and, as you might expect when a multi-billion dollar revenue stream is on the line, the backlash was intense.

The ABC did what it should do in such circumstances, it launched an independent investigation. Six months later, the ABC’s independent Audience and Consumer Affairs unit presented the results. They found the first show was accurate and impartial and neither the ‘for’ or ‘against’ arguments were misrepresented. But when it came to the second part they found the show failed to mention that statins have benefits when it comes to non-fatal outcomes (for people who have already had a heart attack).

As the problem was a failure to disclose relevant information, the recommended remedy was to provide that information on the ABC’s website. Unfortunately at this point the ABC went to water. Instead of uploading a statement to that effect and moving on, the ABC Managing Director, Mark Scott, decided censorship was the way to go.

He ordered the immediate removal of both programs from the ABC website and also hunted down the copies which were by then appearing on YouTube. They were to cease to exist. Everybody should immediately forget there was ever any such thing.

I get it. The ABC copped a lot of flak from the drug companies and they are very big and very scary. But that is no reason start behaving like a third world despot. The whimpering failure of the ABC to stand up for its story (and the journalist who produced it) is all the more pathetic when compared to the steely resolve displayed by the British Medical Journal over the same issue just last week.

At the same time as the Catalyst show was airing, the BMJ had published an article which questioned the evidence behind statin use in Britain. Like the Catalyst story, the paper claimed that the risks (from side-effects) outweighed any potential benefit. A related article published the same week suggested side effects occur in 18% of people taking statins.

The expected complaints flooded in. Leading the charge was Sir Rory Collins head of an organisation which had received well over a quarter of a billion pounds in drug company funding in the previous two decades. He wanted the ABC solution – immediate disappearing of the articles.

As you might expect, the BMJ launched an independent investigation. Their report, delivered last week, found a minor correction was needed and that nothing else was required. There was certainly no cause to remove the papers. They also pointed out that it was very difficult to determine whether statins were safe or not because the drug companies refuse to make the trial data publicly available.

Statins now consume 1 in every 7 taxpayer dollars spent on drugs in this country. When we choose to spend that much on statins, we are choosing to deny patients access to many other potentially lifesaving treatments.  But statins are not cures for anything, they are a barely effective preventative measure. For most of the people taking them there will be no benefit whatsoever. Worse, there are increasingly obvious signs that statins could inflict serious harm.

But this is not a story about statins. It is a story about censorship.

Rather than promoting an honest discussion of the evidence (well, at least the evidence the drug companies will let us see), our National Broadcaster purged the internet of even the remotest suggestion there is anything wrong.

ABC, we depend on you to display the backbone shown by the BMJ. We need you not to cave into crass commercial interest at the first whiff of controversy. You made the wrong call. The BMJ has made that abundantly clear. But it’s not too late to salvage your reputation. Reinstate the programs and do it now.

Oh, and just to show you haven’t been bought off, you could commission a Third Part to the story. It could investigate why taxpayers are paying for drugs whose side effects data are being actively suppressed. How’s that for an idea? You know where to send the royalty cheque.

Addicted to the sweet stuff? Here’s how to cut sugar from your diet

By | Books, Media, Print, Sugar, Sweet Poison | One Comment

Need to get the sugar out of your diet? Read this extract from The Sweet Poison Quit Plan by David Gillespie for tips.

Sugar addiction is such an integral part of our society that we don’t even have a word (like “alcoholic”, “chocaholic” or “workaholic”) to describe people addicted to sugar. “Eaters” are addicted to sugar, but you can eat without sugar. So I’m inventing a new word for sugar addicts: “sugarholics”. Sugarholics today are in the same position that smokers were in the 1950s.

You used to be able to smoke any time at work. You didn’t have to stop work and stand alone in the middle of a field. You weren’t vilified for lighting up a cigarette in a restaurant. Quite the opposite; if you didn’t smoke, you were the weirdo. Today, sugarholics rule the roost. Everybody is addicted from birth. Not eating the birthday cake in the tea room marks you out as the weirdo. Make no mistake: the task you are about to undertake will not be easy, but it is not an exercise in willpower.

Despite what everybody tells you, if you are a sugarholic, you do not have a personality defect. You are not a glutton. You are not weak-willed. You are chemically addicted to a substance in the food supply called fructose. And until you treat that addiction as the powerful biochemical force that it is, you will never loosen its grip. There are five steps to breaking your addiction.

There are lots of downsides to sugar addiction and the only upside is that you feel normal when you have a hit. Do you really have cause to feel deprived? No, but willpower diets demand that you feel deprived. They ask you to “go without” and to “give up” a treat. Feeling deprived will simply drive you back into the arms of addiction.

If you want to succeed, you mustn’t feel you are being deprived of anything. You need to take pity on the poor hopeless addicts who are all around you ingesting poison. You need to view any offering of sugar not as a temptation to be overcome, but as an attempt to poison you (perhaps a little extreme, but you get the idea).

So, don’t feel deprived. You are not giving up anything. You are simply stopping a dangerous and harmful addiction. It really is that simple to break an addiction. If you have the right attitude, staying sugar-free becomes a lot easier than you could possibly imagine.

A critical step in breaking your sugar addiction is identifying the habits associated with the addiction. For me, watching TV was a means of relaxation, and it still is. But my sugar addiction had infiltrated that pleasurable experience and made it its own. Sugar had become an integral part of the relaxation process.

The pleasure I gained from watching TV was directly associated, in my mind, with the dopamine hit I got from the sugar. It’s possible to disassociate the two activities, but you won’t do it by abstaining from both using willpower. The trouble with addictions is that they frequently attach themselves to otherwise-pleasurable experiences and it becomes impossible to distinguish the two.

Those habits will really test your resolve because of the strong association, and in some cases the strong peer group pressure (such as at birthday parties, Easter and Christmas) to conform. In many instances, the only rational way to deal with the problem is to avoid the habitual events associated with consuming sugar until you break the addiction.

So, if you are in the habit of relaxing in front of the TV with a chocolate at the end of the day, stop watching TV and find some other way to relax in the evening for the next month. Or you could continue your TV habit but replace the chocolate with nuts, for example.

This step is all about giving you the shopping strategies you need to prevent too much fructose from contaminating your food supply. You are going to need some shelf space for all your fructose-free food, so the first thing you need to do is throw out all the food in your pantry and fridge that is too high in fructose.

Chocolate of any description must be sent to a happier hunting ground. The same goes for anything you picked up in the confectionery aisle at the supermarket. Sweet biscuits are slightly less bad than confectionery. To make your cupboards truly fructosefree, all the sweet biscuits should go in the bin.

The only drinks you should have in your cupboard or fridge are unflavoured water and unflavoured milk. If you prefer your water with bubbles, then by all means have unflavoured mineral water or soda water. Alcoholic drinks are okay for the recovering sugarholic as long as they don’t taste sweet and they are not mixed with other drinks that contain sugar.

You can keep the dry wines, beers and spirits, but you need to toss out the dessert wines, ports, sweet sherries, liqueurs and mixers (unless they are diet mixers). If you see honey or sultanas in the name of a cereal, it’s usually a good idea to check the sugar content carefully. Don’t be fooled by the branding of new ranges of flavoured oat cereals, either. Unlike their unflavoured cousins, they are usually extremely high in sugar.

Walt Disney once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” And that is the point at which we have arrived on our mission to break your sugar addiction. There’s nothing fun about the withdrawal period, but it does end. And once it does, you’ll be completely free from the desire to eat sugar ever again. A plate of bikkies will hold all the attraction of a plate of raw broccoli.

If you are going cold turkey, have one last supper of your favourite sugary treat. Get that Mars Bar or that can of Coke. Sit down and consciously enjoy the very last time in your life that you will eat (or drink) sugar. If you can just get past the next few weeks of danger, you will enjoy the health that sugar has sucked from your life to date. Then, all of a sudden, your desire for sugar will vanish. I know it sounds strange, but it just plain goes. Bang! And you will never want the stuff again.

Re-stock and live your life

Once you start the withdrawal, you’ll need to re-stock your now-bare cupboard.

Fruit: Whole fruits do contain fructose (the addictive and harmful half of sugar) – in some cases, very large amounts. But they also contain a fairly large amount of fibre and water.

Vegetables: There is no such thing as a bad vegetable. All vegetables contain some level of fructose, but it is an insignificant amount and is vastly overwhelmed by the fibre content.

Nuts: Like vegetables, there’s no such thing as a bad nut. Some have more fructose than others, but even the worst of them, from a fructose perspective, have huge amounts of fibre.

Meat: Meat does not contain any sugar, so knock yourself out. The only possible word of caution is around some of the fancy marinated meats. The marinade is usually very high in sugar and this type of product should generally be avoided.

Eggs, yoghurt, milk and cream: Only choose the tartest of European and natural yoghurts and avoid flavoured milk or whipped cream that you buy in a can.

Cheese: Cheese will have sugar on the ingredients list, but it is all lactose, so there’s no need for concern.

Bread: All breads contain some sugar. All of the standard unflavoured white breads lie somewhere between 0.5 and four per cent sugar (two per cent fructose). Multigrain and brown (wholemeal and rye) breads are low-sugar and have approximately twice as much fibre.

 

This is an edited extract from The Sweet Poison Quit Plan by David Gillespie (Viking).
Originally published in Body+Soul