Experts must stop telling us what to eat

23:17, Feb 22 2014

We know junk food is bad for us but it's our choice if we want to tuck in.

Acedemic activists have declared war on Big Food - on our behalf.

The All Blacks, sponsored by Coca-Cola, are "shameful" and implicitly to blame when parents can't say no to children demanding fizzy drinks.

Gabrielle Jenkin, Wellington health specialist, says Big Food is "more powerful" and will be "more aggressive than Big Tobacco" when cornered. Politicians are "cowed by Big Food" and New Zealand is "appalling, we're sniffing KFC wherever we go".

Public health physician Simon Thornley estimates 67 lives could be saved if we "treat sugar in drinks like tobacco . . . I think this stuff is addictive". Either it is or it isn't - peer-reviewed evidence should be produced before governments ban advertising, introduce taxes, regulate portion sizes and outlet numbers as these guys are advocating.

But what, exactly, is Big Food? The usual yummy suspects - Coca- Cola, Fonterra, Heinz Wattie's (baked beans? Really?), fast food chains, Foodstuffs, Nestle - anything not Little Food. Sugar and spice and all things nice.


Much of the research is shonky. For instance, American college kids studied rats eating Oreo cookies and concluded, "high fat/sugar foods and drugs of abuse trigger brain addictive processes to the same degree and lend support to the hypothesis that maladaptive eating behaviours contributing to obesity can be compared to drug addiction".

It did nothing of the sort. It just concluded rats preferred the sugary centre to the biscuit. My labradors eat everything except worm pills, but that doesn't prove they want to live with tapeworms.

I certainly agree some New Zealanders have an obesity problem. Between 2007 and 2012 the rate grew from 26 per cent of the population to 28 per cent, about one million people. However, that's measured on the BMI scale so includes healthy rugby players and burly farmers who need Big Food.

But should we go down the same path as the anti-tobacco brigade?

Without doubt the battle to reduce smoking has been successful. Ministry of Health figures show only 18 per cent of adults smoke, down from 20 per cent in 2006, and youth smoking rates dropped from 14 to 6 per cent in the past five years.

But the campaign included education, raising taxes and banning smoking everywhere except in the home. It made smokers feel dirty. If we lit up at parties we were shunned - now smokers huddle outside. Adverts still shame mums smoking in cars with their kids. And it continues - grotesque pictures feature on cigarette packs, and plain packaging is around the corner. Tobacco companies are evil. But the anti-tobacco brigade had a plus - they could wave the justification backup of second- hand smoke harming others.

A sugar tax alone won't halt rising obesity, so are we going to shame fat people, the same way smokers were stigmatised? Are we going to print display signs of people eating pies or drinking fizzy with a big red line across them, stating, "No Big Food Eating"? Make us eat desserts outside restaurants?

I don't wish to live in a country which treats addictive people like this all the time. It's not as if fat people hurt anyone else. We know junk food is bad for us but sometimes we like to eat it anyway. If it kills us is that the business of well-meaning but fanatic academics? We already pay hefty taxes for the health system, just as they do.

All food doesn't have to be healthy. Why can't we tuck into pies, pavlova, fizzy, lollies and icecream without counting sugar or fat?

Tax them away? Might as well lose the will to live.

Sunday Star Times