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Our attitude to sugar needs to go the same way as smoking

The Mayor of New York wants to ban super-sized cups of sugary drinks. I’d go further

By on Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Cups and sugar cubes are displayed at a news conference at New York's City Hall (AP photo)

Cups and sugar cubes are displayed at a news conference at New York's City Hall (AP photo)

Boris Johnson wrote an interesting article in the Telegraph on Monday, all about the Mayor of New York’s attempt to curb some of the worst excesses of his fat citizenry’s diet viz a ban on super-sized cups of sugary drinks like soda. It is hardly necessary to explain why; as Damian Thompson points out in his new book, The Fix; How addiction is invading our lives and taking over your world (I’m hoping that my mention of it here will get me a free review copy), sugar is in almost everything we eat and drink and it is slowly killing us.

Our attitude to sugar needs to go the same way as smoking. Looking back on the anti-smoking campaign it seems extraordinary that until the 1960s or thereabouts, when Sir Richard Doll and his colleagues made the irrefutable connection between lung cancer and smoking, a pall of heavy cigarette smoke hung everywhere: in trains, cinemas, restaurants and especially in our own homes. My own father, a GP, was a 60-a-day man and I used to hear his smoker’s cough in the surgery as he was listening to his patients’ lungs, all hacking away with their own smoker’s cough. King George VI, a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer, was actually advised to smoke more, on the grounds that it would ease his stammer.

Libertarians grumble at the increasingly draconian measures that have come into force to stop us smoking in public. A few non-smokers have apparently taken up smoking in defiance. But smoking was ruining the nation’s health. When something like that becomes obvious the government has a duty to do something. I suspect the same will become true of our sugar intake. According to Johnson’s article, almost 20 per cent of London’s children are technically obese “and the proportion is rising all the time”. He points out, as if we didn’t already know it, that “This fatness plague is costing about a billion in extra healthcare costs in London alone; obesity is associated with diabetes, with heart disease, with some forms of cancer”.

I took my grandchildren to McDonald’s for a treat over half term; without meaning to sound like a patronising middle-class granny, it was a depressing spectacle: hordes of overweight children enthusiastically munching on the fatty and sugary in-house fare, alongside overweight adults also munching hard (while occupied with their mobile phones). They looked so at home I got the impression that they all lived at McDonald’s. I ordered three small milk shakes in different flavours, only to be presented with three large tubs. My grandson assured me they were the smallest size. If I were Mayor Bloomberg of New York I would be inclined to a whole host of drastic measures, not just tinkering around with the cup size of sugary drinks.

However, there are other ways of thinning the populace without trampling over freedom of choice. Carolyn Moynihan writes from New Zealand in the Family Edge blog that a millionaire businessman from Auckland, Tony Falkenstein, has come up with an imaginative response to the anti-fat war: he has distributed rent-free water coolers to thousands of homes in a poor part of the city and supplied families with filtered tap water at $1 a litre. He estimates that the consumption of fizzy drinks has fallen by 60 per cent in homes that have a water cooler.

It seems that Falkenstein got the idea from bringing home a water cooler for his own children. They could help themselves to a drink and use easy technology – pressing a button – at the same time. The psychology behind the idea is simple: you re-programme the brain to think that using a water cooler is as much fun as buying a fizzy drink.

My mother, who lived through the war, goes on about how good it all was when everyone had to travel about on bicycles and cook plain, nourishing fare; sugar was rationed “and everyone was healthy”. This is a nostalgic and simplistic view, obviously – but perhaps the Coalition should turn from peripheral concerns to combating its flabby, self-indulgent electorate? I advocate turning McDonald’s into 1940s-style theme parks where the milk shakes are strictly rationed.

  • stephen.keay

    No it doesn’t.

  • JByrne24

    Of course it doesn’t.

    But Ms Phillips seems, I think, a great moraliser who likes people to be told (by those with the same opinions as herself) what they should and should not do. 

    The moralisers are often with us, and this is a great age of moralisers – as most highly immoral times are; the moralising always preceding the immorality, and being the primary cause of the latter.
    It is in this way that Christian sexual moralising produced pornography, which was unknown in pre-Christian Rome (and Britain). I sought to explain this on an earlier thread.

  • Oconnord

    Government should control the kitchen… but the church the bedroom?

    Except on fridays. Then we have to eat fish.

    Don’t even try to make sense of these articles, it’s pointless. There was another about skirts… because some long dead bishop said so.

  • Guest

    I think more people need to start smoking. First, it is anti-social; second it solves the age old problem of “what do I do with my hands?”

  • GFFM

    Can the puritanism just stop for heaven’s sake? The social engineering is so condescending and the demonization of McDonalds is so easy and so cosmetic. Bloomberg is a flake and a nanny who now wants to ban popcorn and certain kinds of coffee drinks. Give us all a break and talk about the break down of family life, home-made food, cooking at home, family dinners which are healthier for mind and body. This drivel doesn’t do the underlying issues any justice. It just makes us all roll our eyes.

  • teigitur

    Utter Tosh Ms Phillips.

  • JByrne24

    “Don’t even try to make sense of these articles, it’s pointless.”

    Yes, you’re probably right – but out of date about the skirts.
    There’s an SSPX writer who warns the world about women wearing trousers:
    mini-skirts can attack the body, but trousers attack the mind!

  • JByrne24

    “I think more people need to start smoking. ….”

    ….and you can possibly leave this world and the moralisers even sooner.

  • Oconnord

    That’s the article I was thinking of,,, though I forgot it was anti-trousers.

    Maybe he foresaw Wallace and Gromit and was simply warning against wearing The Wrong Trousers.

  • precusant

    my understanding is that sugar and tobacco are the 2 most addictive substances on the planet. and in turn have become the most sickening and lethal. i think there must be some principles by which these and things like opiates, alcohol, etc. can all be handled. notice that none of them are necessary but are enjoyable pleasures that appear to be harmless in moderate, infrequent amounts and are accepted but some societies as normal while rejected by others. if it is okay to give adults access to any one of these then why not all? OR if we need to restrict or ban one, why not all? i don’t know the answer to this libertarian question, but wish that there was some rational consistency. the writer here identifies the addictive quality of sugar. this can be confirmed by any OA member, and brings up the question of other addictions such as gambling and porn. maybe the same principles would cover all of these. i’m not sure that restrictions and regulations help so can’t advocate that approach (yet) but i do applaud the writer’s prediction that sugar will one day be seen as one of the obvious, simple, stupidities of our current culture (more so than salt and fats). meanwhile it’s okay if i go down to the corner shop (the respectable londis) and buy sugar, tobacco, pornography, beer and a lottery ticket, but if i gave those all up in exchange for a spliff i’d be so bad in so many eyes.

  • Nesbyth

    Actually I think this is a good article and I thoroughly agree with it. Sugar poisons and/or kills quite effectively and coming from a family with three diabetics over three generations, I know, at first hand what a terrible scourge it is …. especially refined sugar such as fructose (which is not made from fruit, but corn and heavily messed about with. It is in almost everything.)

    Perhaps if GFFM did some homework he/she would learn some very useful facts.

    And the break down of family life” that GFFM wants to discuss is aided and abetted by poor food which makes one fat, unhealthy and frequently bad-tempered
    SUGAR is NOT a life-enhancer.

  • Nesbyth

    This is tripe….how smug you appear to be JByrne24

  • Nesbyth

    Another snide comment from JByrne24. Can you think out of your usual box at all?

  • JByrne24

    Professor Ivan (Ivan “the not-so-bad”, to his friends) Soup-Hales, who is the Fingerwagen Professor of Kitchen Moralising at the Metropolitan City University of Stackton-Trestle, has recently completed an interesting research study, relevant to this topic.
    In an investigation covering a period of 10 years and almost 120,000 dead people, Professor Soup-Hales points to an alarming correlation between death and food/drink consumption.
    Of those who had died, well over 99% of them had consumed at least 1 unit of food or drink over a fairly short period prior to their demise. 
    Prof Soup-Hales believes that his team has revealed a hitherto unknown problem of epidemic, and indeed endemic, proportions.

  • JByrne24

    Would you like a link to the SSPX “women in trousers horror” writings and teachings, or perhaps a longer extract from it?

    This is, apparently, a serious matter – and nothing to be frivolous about Nesbyth!

  • GFFM

     Absolute bunk. If one reads what I said I was not defending the overeating of sugar at all. What I did say is this: banning sugar is not getting at the root of the problem. Demonizing McDonalds does not get at the root of the problem. The issues are family life, education, and, quite frankly personal freedom and human nature. The breakdown of the family has not been caused by drinking too many Cokes; it has to do with moral breakdown, a crisis in values, materialism, lack of family cohesiveness and much more. What always strikes me about what I would call neo-puritanism is the alarmism–the rush to judgement, the merely cosmetic band-aid over a gaping wound beneath the surface. Ban sugar, ban tobacco, ban McDonalds, and live in fear. What’s worse is this: make children and others live in fear of sugar, of a beer, of a glass of wine, of a hamburger. This kind of alarmism is trickery and a kind of hysteria. What we need to discuss is parental authority and its breakdown. Rarely does one hear of moderation, the teaching of a middle way. No, sugar is now inherently immoral, dangerous, harmful; and anyone who doesn’t agree is terrible and doesn’t care about our children.

  • GFFM

    Here is a relevant reference from C. S. Lewis:  Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may
    be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons
    than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may
    sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those
    who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do
    so with the approval of their own conscience.”
    —C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock.

    This is exactly on point.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     I hope the good Professor did a double blind trial with out of contact controls and the obligatory exit interview.
    But seriously this Mayor just want’s to be reelected and this is a good way of being listened to.There is some merit in the medical argument that increased energy consumption over loss may lead to obesity, failure of cardiovascular fitness, osteoarthritis and ultimately diabetes and death.
    Another way round this public health problem would be to fund public education and screening tests.But that may not gain sufficient votes.

  • Br Paritosh

    libertarians think we live in a strange world where people are logical and have the power to choose. The fact is most of oir choices are fed to us by self interested corporates whose eye is on the bottom dollar. we dont really have choice other than what is shoved in front of our eyes. The capitalist system will always promote products over well being, because well being doesnt sell coke. and unhealthy stuff is addictive, especially sugary foods. its a subtle way of hooking people in. we have to wean people from them and show them the other options. We need guidance and coaxing. The majority are not as intelligent as libertarians believe…

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