Gaming under the guise of sport has no place in our schools

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Exposing high school students to addictive gaming under the guise of sport is reprehensible and is no better than addicting them to booze. Parents must wake up to the risks and stop schools from allowing it.

AUSTRALIAN high schools are increasingly signing up to eSports programs. They might as well be opening lunchtime pubs in their canteens. Addicting their students to gaming is no better than addicting them to booze and it certainly isn’t sport.

From the very beginning of computer gaming, just as with real life games, people have been keen to watch others play.

In 1980, just two years after the release of the first major commercial computer game, Space Invaders, Atari organised the world’s first tournament. Ten thousand players battled little green invaders across the US, with Rebecca (then Bill) Heineman being crowned the ultimate winner, and taking home a Missile Command video game console then worth US$3000.

For a long time the revenue earning power of computer gaming competitions was limited by the inability to compete directly against other humans. The competitions were essentially overblown High Score shootouts, where every player was pitted against the game algorithm and the winner was the one who understood how it worked the best. It understandably had limited mass appeal.

And then came the internet and with it, the ability to design games which pitted people against people. Sure, the game controlled the environment and its rewards and punishments, but now for the first time the skills of other humans could affect your ability to win. It was suddenly a lot more like a physical sport. And with that, a new age of gaming dawned, the age of eSports.

That industry is now worth around US$1 billion a year and growing very fast. It is predicted to have worldwide revenue of US$1.8 billion by 2022, when eSports will be included as a full medal sport in the Asian Games in China, the world’s second largest multi-sport event (behind the Olympics).

These “eSports” are free online computer games played in teams. Usually five players co-operate and attempt to destroy a base protected by another team of five players while protecting their own base. The most popular games at the moment are DOTA 2, League of Legends and Overwatch but the list is growing all the time and the new kid on the block is the wildly popular, Fortnite.

And just like real sports, the audiences are eating it up. The global audience is currently well north of 380 million people. Needless to say, an audience that big attracts hundreds of millions in sponsorship dollars, not to mention in-game purchases and merchandise.

It is this potential honey pot and massively accelerating growth that has attracted media, telecom and the owners of traditional sports. Telcom companies are buying teams and securing streaming rights and sporting organisations are funding leagues to expand their audiences.

Locally, several AFL franchises have ploughed money into eSports. In 2017. the Adelaide Crows purchased a franchise. It was quickly followed by Essendon the following year and North Melbourne, Collingwood, Geelong, West Coast and GWS are actively considering following suite. Adelaide now run the Meta High School eSports League, with the 2019 season involving 160 schools in Australia and New Zealand.

Participating schools establish “teams” of competitive gamers who “train” for hours each week after school and compete in the online leagues. The games are free to play and can be played all the time regardless of being in a “team”, so I suspect most of the players get in a lot more “training” than the hour or two they do at school. And probably use the need to “train” as an excuse for access to their devices at home.

The graphics and sound are exhilarating. The excitement and tension in the players is real.

These games are the very best, the most addictive, the most evolved, the gaming industry has to offer. Their purpose is to addict young minds to the point of obsession, so that billions can be drained from their bank accounts in the form of micro purchases (of costumes and characters) and billions more can be drained from the accounts of sponsors who want access to the players and their fans. And our schools have just signed up as part of the gaming industry sales force.

We wouldn’t tolerate a brewery sponsoring a Chug-a-lug competition at the local high school. And we wouldn’t be too keen on a casino installing pokies, sorry eMaths machines, in the library.

So why on earth are we allowing companies whose entire purpose is to addict young minds open up shop in our schools.

It isn’t sport just because they call it sport. eSport is addictive gaming, pure and simple, so don’t let your school fall for the marketing BS designed to turn your kids into a product for sale to the highest bidder.


First published in the Courier Mail.

The Media Must Be Our Watchdog Against The Weinsteins Of This World

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Powerful Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein has been accused of long-term, persistent sexual harassment. But this is not a story about gender or the evils of Hollywood. Sexual harassment isn’t about sex. It is about the public abuse of a power imbalance and we need to get a lot better at calling it out.

It is easy to suggest, as some commentators have, that women abused by Harvey Weinstein should have spoken up a long time before it was all over The New York Times. But those women were not on an even playing field with their abuser. They were working in, or wanted to work in, an industry in which his word could make or break them in an instant.

It’s also easy to clutch our pearls and pretend that Weinstein is some sort of aberrant monster. That he is an outlier. That such behavior is a rarity. But this is as old as Hollywood itself. Marilyn Munroe once said to a close friend, “I spent a great deal of time on my knees”. And the recent slew of examples from Jimmy Saville, to Rolf Harris to Donald Trump and the many in between suggests nothing has changed.

These are just the famous ones. Recent research suggests that psychopathic abuses of relative power happen in an alarming number of workplaces, alarmingly frequently.

Weinstein’s antics were an open secret. Many journalists knew his reputation. There would be very few journalists anywhere for whom anything in The New York Times came as news. But we are used to this. Every time a story like this breaks, many in the media make it clear they have known for ages.

So why does it take The New York Times to run a feature before anyone discovers they have a backbone? I’m sure Harvey is a terribly powerful bloke, but no editor’s job was in danger if they told what they knew. Heck, they might even get an award. Weinstein couldn’t end their career and their pay-packet didn’t depend on keeping him sweet.

Sure, he might rattle the sabre and, like Bill Cosby, attempt to sue, but if the evidence was there and reported without malice neither they nor their paper was in any real danger. Litigation against them or their publisher would instantly break Mark Twain’s golden rule for dealing with the press — “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel”.

Every time a workplace psychopath gets away with victimising others in front of witnesses they are more emboldened to do it again. They did their worst and the social enforcers looked the other way. There is nothing to stop them doing that, and worse, next time.

It’s easy to see why no editor feels they can act. They look around and they see all their colleagues also not acting. They fear that everyone else knows something they might be missing. And that something might get them sued. There are very few things more likely to sap your courage than peers you respect refusing to do a job that looks obvious.

The same thing happens every day in the workplace. The psychopathic boss uses their position of power to tear down a lower-level employee, often in front of a crowd of witnesses who do nothing. They don’t want to be on the receiving end of the next tirade. Valor drains away quickly when you’re not sure if you can make the rent this week.

Like the actors who didn’t directly experience Weinstein but knew what he was doing, those employees are complicit. But they are also powerless. To act is to risk their livelihood.

There are however, people who are paid to act. Indeed much of their reason for existing is for exactly that situation. The HR department are the corporate police. A well-structured enterprise will empower them to act against abuses of power with extreme prejudice.

Editors and other newsmakers are meant to perform exactly the same function for exactly the same reason in society. Calling out bullying and harassment actually enhances rather than diminishes their job prospects, or rather, it should.

But all too often, group think and anxiety about imaginary consequences shuts them down before they even begin to do their job. If we want to stop abusive behavior in Hollywood, and everywhere else, then we need to ensure our journalists, our HR departments and all our other whistleblowers are protected and emboldened. When abuse is occurring we need to protect those who speak out, not shame them into staying with the herd.

Our media can’t be an outsourced PR department spinning myths and legends, because, money. It must be a truth teller prepared to print what it knows, without fear or favour. Until that is standard operating procedure, Harvey and his ilk will continue to abuse us and we will keep enabling it.


Also published in The Huffington Post

Act on Sugar before it’s too late.

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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.

In 1981, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published the very first set of guidelines aimed at making Australians healthier. Fat was blamed for the increasing rates of obesity and heart disease, so the guidelines were focused on fat consumption. In short, fat makes you fat and sick and you should eat a lot less of it. Sugar was also mentioned but only because it rots our teeth but it was ok to consume ‘in moderation’ (whatever that means).

I very much doubt that anyone actually pores over the guidelines while they fill their shopping trolley, but many of us use them without realising it. They are the basis for the nutrition (daily intake) recommendations on every packaged food we buy. They form the foundation for every piece of advice any government agency or nutritionist gives us (from school canteens to hospitals). And every meal for our military forces is created using a policy based on the guidelines.

Because of this, the eat-less-fat message got through to us loud and clear. Between 1980 and 1995, the average Australian successfully decreased the amount of fat they were eating by 5% and the amount of cholesterol by a whopping 18%. We replaced the fat with carbohydrates (bread, cereals and sugar), increasing our consumption by 16.5%.

Unfortunately the obesity statistics went in exactly the opposite direction to our fat consumption. In 1980, two in five (39%) Australian Adults were either overweight or obese. By 2011, only two in five weren’t (63.4% were overweight or obese). In just 28 years, all that low-fat eating (or was it the high-carbohydrate eating?) had managed to increase the number people with a weight problem by 64 per cent!

Heart disease sufferers didn’t fare much better. The percentage of the population afflicted doubledbetween 1989 and 2011 (despite significant advances in health care for heart patients in that period).

Evidence that fat makes you fat and sick was suspiciously lacking by the time the revised guidelines came out in 1992. And the evidence that the theory was nonsense was there in spades by the time the third release hit the streets in 2003. Increasingly sugar was being fingered as the culprit but that evidence was suspiciously absent from the reviews undertaken at that time.

The guidelines are currently being reviewedahead of publication of new version (hopefully next year). So can we expect a sudden change of heart from the nutrition elite? History suggests pigs may be approaching the runway before that happens.

The draft update to the new NHMRC dietary guideline on sugar suggests they plan to change from this

“Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.”

To this:

“Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars. In particular, limit sugar-sweetened drinks.”

Again, no actual limits or recommendations will be included.

The reason for this momentous change (go on, I bet you can spot a difference if you look hard enough) is that the NHMRC has unearthed very high quality evidence which tells it that consuming soft drinks makes us fat. Apparently sugar is dangerous when combined with bubbles and water but is otherwise ok.

Last week I was invitedto Canberra to explain why that was just plain daft. I submitted that a refusal to consider any evidence produced beyond 2009 made for a very weak review. I pointed out that the American Heart Association had reviewed the evidence on sugar in 2009 and come out with a position statement which recommended dramatic reductions in consumption. I presented the mountain of evidence that has accumulated since 2009 including high quality human trials. And I highlighted some of the startling conclusions from the current NHMRC evidence report such as “three of the four cohort studies reviewed showed positive associations with fructose[half of sugar] and pancreatic and colo-rectal cancer

I concluded that given that even their own review (limited and defective as it was) was throwing up high quality evidence of very real harm from sugar consumption, the anaemic recommendation to ‘limit intake’ just isn’t good enough.

It’s a long time between drinks with these guidelines (it will be a decade between reviews by the time this lot are published) and we already have powerful evidence of very real harm from sugar. But millions of real people are making daily decisions about what to shove in their mouth based on this advice (whether they know it or not) with the direct result that they are significantly fatter and sicker than they were the day before.

Let’s not wait until 2023 to get tough on sugar. Let’s not let millions more perfectly healthy children suffer the lifelong destruction of amenity which is type II diabetes. Let’s not stand by and watch the heart disease, kidney disease and pancreatic cancer rates double again. Let’s do something about it now.

Are Mums really United in their love of Margarine?

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The Australian Heart Foundation has found a new and even more devious way to entangle itself with the interests of the processed food industry. Its new “Mums United” campaign pretends to be a grassroots movement for healthy living. But it walks like a margarine advertisement and quacks like a margarine advertisement, so guess what it I think it is.
The Heart Foundation’s “Mums United” campaign asks mums to “change the shape of Australia.” No earth moving equipment is required so I suspect they mean they’ll change the shape of Australians. Apparently ‘Dads’ are not up to the task (or is it just that in the Heart Foundation’s world ‘mums’ do all the shopping?).
Putting aside its deeply patronising premise, mums can get going with their ‘fat-busting’ using some tips from the Heart Foundation. Tip #2 is to make sure mums use margarine instead of butter.
The campaign was only launched last month, but already it has received impressive media coverage and has a facebook group with over 4,500 followers. Selin Tas posted a link to her blog post which says “We finished our [Mum’s United] meeting pledging never to purchase butter again”.
And Selin is not the only one. The facebook page is full of mums posting stories of how they have organised groups of fellow mums and sworn off butter. The casual reader could easily come to the conclusion that the Heart Foundation has tapped into a throbbing artery of desire (among Australian mummy bloggers) to change the health of a nation (or at least to eat more margarine).
Except that (rather like the construction of sausages) it is better not to look too closely at the process. It turns out that Mums United is an advertising campaign.  Roberta Donovan, marketing director of the Heart Foundation explained to an advertising industry magazine “our campaign galvanises Mums into being part of an ongoing movement – one that sees Australians work together to achieve a healthy weight for the nation.”
The social media and word of mouth campaigns are being run through “conversation marketing agency” Soup. Their website tells us that they gave mummy bloggers “a $10 voucher” and asked them to “hit the supermarket and buy margarine instead.” Soup tells us that the “results were outstanding; most [mummy bloggers] reported … they have since made the switch to margarine …”
And Soup’s largesse doesn’t end there. Many of the bloggers report that Soup has sent them up to $350 of shopping cards to distribute as prizes to any readers who sign up to their facebook pages or comment on their Mums United blog posts.
It all sounds like a bonanza for the mummy bloggers and their readers (and at least according to Soup, its working). I asked the Heart Foundation who was paying for all of this. They told me that there are several social media campaigns being run by Soup on their behalf but they refused to say who was picking up the tab for any of them. All they would say is that companies entitled to use the tick can optionally get involved in “co-operative marketing” programs (like Mums United).
And this is by no means the only example of “co-operative marketing.” Last year the Heart Foundation was involved (judging by the prominent use of their logo) with a series of infomercial-type advertisements put together by Goodman Fielder (the manufacturer of Meadow Lea). The commercials featured a cardiologist who told us “what saturated fats can do to your child’s health”. He then goes on to suggest that we should switch to a margarine spread made with plant seeds.
You can still see the ad on a website called Spread the Facts which is “brought to you by Goodman Fielder” and which highlights the Heart Foundation’s recommendation that we swap margarine for butter.
The cosy relationship between margarine makers and the Heart Foundation is not new. In 2001, Bill Shrapnel (then a consultant nutritionist to Unilever Australia, maker of Flora margarine) pointed out that “Modern nutrition advice is one of the most negative influences on margarine consumption.” At the time, the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines asked people to eat a low fat diet and this negatively impacted on margarine sales (as it is a visible source of fat).
But as Bill pointed out, things were improving (for the margarine manufacturers) because the Heart Foundation had just started recommending “an increase in the polyunsaturated fat content of the Australian diet of between 80 and 100 per cent.” He then suggested this represented “a rare opportunity” and that “[p]erhaps … margarine companies should consider assisting the Heart Foundation in its educational activities about dietary fats.” It looks like they listened to that very sage marketing advice.
The only trouble is that they Heart Foundation’s own analysis of the evidence does not support its “co-operative marketing.”  It is not hard to come away from the current campaign with the impression that eating less fat is good for your weight. But the Heart Foundation’s most recent (2003) position statement on the subject says exactly the opposite – “Dietary fat is not an independent risk factor for the development and progression of overweight and obesity. [my emphasis]”
And there’s absolutely no evidence that switching polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat will have any effect on weight whatsoever. That stands to reason. They are both fats, and they both deliver 9 calories per gram. As far as our digestive system is concerned they are identical.
Margarine can be legally sold in this country. And margarine companies are entitled to use every (legal) marketing tactic to sell their product. But why is our Heart Foundation rolling around in the marketplace with them? Why are they sneaking through the back alleys of the internet whipping up mummy blogger campaigns with gift cards? And why are they happy to create an impression about health benefits which they know not to be true? 
The Heart Foundation’s tick program generates money for a charity and I guess that’s a good thing. But it comes with a heavy price. Co-operative marketing means the Heart Foundation’s health halo is sullied by commercial interests. It means (whether they intend it or not) that the Foundation becomes a spokesperson for the processed food industry. And the result is that the foundation is less an independent umpire and more a player from the other team wearing the umpire’s uniform.
So do us all a favour Heart Foundation and give your tick (and the phoney campaigns that come with it) the flick.

How Diabetes drugs stop us losing weight (and do nothing but delay the inevitable)

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Drug companies have a solution to Type II Diabetes unfortunately their ‘solution’ will make us almost as fat as their wallets (and won’t change the outcome).  The real solution is much simpler and you don’t need to buy anything from anyone to implement it.
Our body is a machine that runs on a fuel of pure glucose.  When we eat carbohydrates (like fruit, vegetables, bread, pasta and rice) our liver converts the starch in those foods to glucose.  Almost every cell in our body can burn (or oxidise to be more precise) the glucose to create energy. 

Managing the fuel (glucose) levels in our blood is therefore pretty important to our wellbeing.  The level of glucose is managed by two primary hormones.  We release insulin when blood glucose goes up and glucagon when it drops. 

The insulin helps cells access the glucose in the blood and either use it (if they need it) or turn it into fat for storage.  Either way, a primary function of the insulin is to lower the amount of glucose in our bloodstream.  If blood sugar stays high for a long time, damage starts to occur in places where we have lots of small blood vessels, such as our kidneys, our eyes and eventually our hands and feet.
Glucagon does the same thing in reverse.  The combination of the two hormones working together means that normally our blood glucose levels stay in tight range regardless of what (or when) we eat.
Sometimes we can become resistant to insulin.  This simply means that cells do not respond as efficiently as they should and glucose stays in our blood for too long.  
Doctors can tell when we are insulin resistant because our blood glucose levels remain too high for too long after eating.  But (at least at first) there are no real symptoms that we have the problem.  And so a majority of people who are insulin resistant don’t know it.
If you remain insulin resistant for long enough, at certain levels, you will be declared to have Type II Diabetes.
Our body usually responds to insulin resistance by pumping up the insulin levels until the glucose is cleared.  If we ask our body to run on overdrive like that for years, for most of us, our pancreas (the insulin maker) will pack it in and we will need to get daily insulin injections to live.
One carbohydrate (and only one) does not work this way.  Fructose is not normally converted to glucose and does not trigger an insulin release. It is instead converted to saturated fat by our liver.  So for a long time, fructose was prescribed as a perfect sugar for Type II Diabetics.  Unfortunately it looks like that cure is turning out to be the cause of the disease. 
Last week, the American Heart Association issued a scientific position statement which makes it clear that they are satisfied that fructose does indeed create dangerous levels of circulating fats (called triglycerides).  The statement went further and warned that the creation of triglycerides is directly linked to the onset of the insulin resistance which leads to Type II Diabetes.  In other words, fructose consumption is likely to be a significant cause of Type II diabetes.
The primary source of fructose in the Australian diet is sugar.  So the obvious cure for Type II Diabetes would be to tell people to stop eating sugar.  But there is no money in telling people to not eat something.
No, if you are diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in Australia today you will be put on drugs to sort you out (after a perfunctory nod to ‘lifestyle interventions’).  
The standard treatment for high blood sugar (and therefore diabetes) is a prescription of ‘eat less fat and exercise more’. When that doesn’t work (as it almost never does) the prescription is changed to a combination of drugs.
There are a few different types of medication but the ones most commonly used in Australia work by stimulating the body to produce more insulin.  The drugs squeeze that little bit more insulin out of our pancreas to help clear the blood sugar. As you might expect, putting the pancreas on overdrive eventually results in it conking out completely. Then the only option is to start injecting insulin every day.
Unfortunately a side effect of the drugs is weight gain. Insulin does clear glucose from the bloodstream,  but if the cells don’t need the glucose, they just turn it into fat.  Giving people more insulin (or giving them drugs to force them to produce it themselves) simply channels sugar out of the bloodstream and converts it into body fat.
Using drugs to force insulin resistant person to make more insulin just moves the immediate problem from the bloodstream to the tummy (or bot-bot). And even then it only works until the pancreas packs it in anyway.  Removing the cause (fructose) would be infinitely more effective but if the drugs remain part of the prescription while that is going on, motivation will soon be a problem (because it will be very difficult to lose weight).
We need a new approach to treating insulin resistance.  We need an approach based on the science rather than one based on a drug manufacturer’s bottom line.  People diagnosed as being insulin resistant (or ultimately Type II Diabetic) should be told the truth about sugar and then told how to remove it from their food supply. 

When this happens (and only when this happens) will we start to make a real difference in the progress of a disease that is responsible for more than 9 limb amputations a day in Australia and is our 6th biggest killer (heading for #1 with a bullet).

Selling the ‘cure’ with the disease

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Nature’s Way Vita Gummies embed vitamins in delicious sugar filled gummies. And just for good measure they have former Olympian (and now Biggest Loser host) Hayley Lewis pushing them on the teev.

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.


Let’s stop treating obesity like it’s a disease.

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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.

We need more than good intentions to stop Diabetes.

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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?

DAA decides lawyers are the answer

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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.

The DAA’s considered response it seems is to threaten me (and Google, my blog provider) with an injunction. No, not an injunction about anything I said in the article. They sent in the legal beagles (with teeth barred and threats aplenty) because I used their logo to illustrate the blog post.

There are many things worth fighting about, but the use of the DAA logo on a blog post doesn’t make the cut. So, of course I have immediately removed the offending object (see below).
But DAA, here’s a tip for the next time you have a concern about anything I do – asking nicely usually works better than sending threats of injunction (and costs an awful lot less). Perhaps if you spent a little less on lawyers, you wouldn’t need the food industry sponsorship (just sayin).

Is Nestlé fattening us up just so it can sell us diets (that don’t work)?

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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.