Sunday, September 13, 2009

Benevolent Gastrodictatorship

As I was reading all the paperwork that ends up in my two older sons’ kindy bags, I came across a two large posters, both called “Healthy Lunches Made Easy”, one produced by the Canterbury DHB, and one by the Fight The Obesity Epidemic food lobby, but both saying quite different things. (For the record, the Canterbury DHB one was the better of the two and made me feel hungry).

As I read it, I became aware of the 14-month-old sitting next to me in his high chair, enjoying the little square of chocolate that I had just given to him because he looked cute.

I’m also laughing at the Fight The Obesity (hereinafter known as FO) poster. My boys are all of healthy weight, healthy height and are active. They love their food, and while they don't overeat, I worry about how we can afford to feed them when they get to teenage years. They eat lots of bread, rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables of their own volition because they enjoy them. But I can guarantee that the advice on the FO poster will be a waste of food. Celery on dry, unflavoured rice cakes??? Would anyone willingly eat that??? We are told in bright red letters, "Sugars, chocolates and giant versions of food have no place in a child's lunchbox." "Water is the only drink recommended for children." "Sugars contribute to weight gain and tooth decay."

 My children are doomed!

I'm not convinced that a bit of chocolate, even given daily (which, before any psycho food lobbyists get upset, I don't do, but only because I can’t afford it), is going to give my children one or more of the following: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, anaemia, hyperactivity, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, mental illness (including schizophrenia), menstrual cramps, scurvy, hair loss, hirsutism, varicose veins, impotence, drug addiction, suicide, haemorrhoids, constipation, diarrhoea, or lead to criminality.

Although having just read the list, I wonder if chocolate might be the reason behind some of my afflictions.

The following list is contains the grand total of commonplace diseases that I believe are conclusively linked with sugar/chocolate consumption:
1. Tooth decay.

And it is easily countered by brushing your teeth regularly.

Sugar does not make people fat. Fat makes people fat. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly converted into glucose energy in the bloodstream. Saturated fats, such as dairy products, meats and fried foods, are more likely to be causing any obesity problems. By this reasoning, it is not the sugar in the chocolate that is fattening; it is the full-fat milk. So, surely the solution is to enjoy it in moderation?

The health lobbyists may have correctly deduced that people prefer high-sugar diets to healthier foods, but they have developed a flawed strategy of frightening people away from sugar in the belief that somehow they will be lured in to healthier foods as a matter of course. It is a desperate measure, doomed to failure, fundamentally dishonest and morally reprehensible, but most public health organisations seem to pursue it as policy.

All this nutritional perversity does is for a child is develop unhealthy ideas about "good" foods and "bad" foods, associating food with punishment and reward, or with body image. Mentally labelling foods is central to the warped logic of people with eating disorders. A more relaxed approach would make everyone happier and healthier. Sure, children sometimes don't have the capacity to understand what is best for them - which is why wise parents care for them - and there may be a need to ration their children's sweets. But it would be better for everyone's psychological health if sweets were given joyfully, as an expression of love, rather than grudgingly and disapprovingly.  Sometimes it seems that parents derive a perverse satisfaction from banning or demonising certain foods, because they feel they are taking some positive action in protecting their children, regardless of whether it is doing more harm than good.

The policy of demonising sugar and sweets does not fundamentally improve people's diets. All it does is spoil an innocent moment of pleasure, a balm amid the stress of life. I'm not suggesting that sugar is necessarily good. And there is no doubt that people can end up abusing sweets for the wrong reasons, such as boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. It's just that the public health argument has been made too forcefully against sugar.

Let's conveniently ignore the fact that we are eating more and more sugar, and let’s conveniently ignore that this shows how useless the anti-sugar strategy has been. And let’s conveniently ignore the fact that some cultures in the world - Indian, Arabic, and French immediately come to mind - have consumed the most sugar-laden sweets for centuries and have not wiped themselves out of existence.

My boys like chocolate. As do I. I don't want them to feel deprived of chocolate because I know how ghastly that feels. I would rather they learnt the art of eating in moderation by themselves, not by some fascist rhetoric from bored health dictators.

Why does everyone have to eat well all the time?

Excuse me while I go and report myself to the appropriate authorities now.


Lindsay said...

One thing you can be sure of is that chocolate is not going to give your children menstrual cramps.

The truly absurd thing is when they get to Primary School I can guarantee they will come home with large boxes of chocolate to sell for fundraising. And ours were heavily incentivised with prizes to sell as many boxes as they could. Last time we ended up with a second box and then child number two went off the boil and I ended up paying for the lot. Hence we had a few weeks supply of bars. Actually the kids were very restrained and they lasted for months. Having never been nagged not to eat this or that they are both quite partial to a good range of food.

Opinionated Mummy said...

If chocolate does ever give my boys menstrual cramps, I'll be sure to stop them from eating it.

I'm dreading the fundraising boxes of chocolates. Cadbury confectionary is the one thing that is banned from my house - but only because I think it tastes ghastly and I would rather we spent our tight budget on quality foods. I'm going to have to wrestle with some demons when the boxes arrive. And I know it will happen.

And your last line: "Having never been nagged not to eat this or that they are both quite partial to a good range of food." That's exactly the point that I was trying to make. Food is wonderful. Nagging children is counter-productive - I used to be nagged over sweets as a child and I hoarded them and ate in secret. I still do so without realising it, and it's a hard habit to break. On the other hand, I don't nag my kids over food and they will often go for an apple rather than a chocolate because the apple tastes good too.

Why is it so hard to develop healthy eating campaigns along those lines??!!??

Oswald Bastable said...

The only sweets that are strictly forbidden would be the adults only stash of schoc chocolate.

Giving that two small boys would be like feeding a pig strawberries!

Opinionated Mummy said...

Os, good point, and one that I had neglected to mention. If any of the boys got into the salted dark.... let's just say I know I would have 88% of the population backing my response.....

libertyscott said...

There needs to be a psychological study into why people like nagging, like telling others what to do.

It is, fundamentally, the single biggest cause of mass murder and unhappiness in the world.

Amnion said...

You are very wrong about sugar not making people fat. The obesity 'epidemic' dates from 1980 -exactly the time health agencies starting saying "only fat makes people fat, eat more carbs!" It was not physiological then, and it isnt now.

It is patently not a good thing for humans to eat refined carbs - the experiment over the past 30 years shows that was bad advice.

All sugars do not convert to glucose, indeed sugar=sucrose breaks down into glucose and fructose - fructose does not break down into glucose - fructose increases lipids, increases fat deposition, causes hypertension, causes fatty liver, and probably increases appetite.

Going low fat greatly increased the amounts of sugars in foods, decreased their satieting properties and sees sugars of all sorts in a huge amount of foods that never used to contain sugars

You are repeating the advice of 1980 when increasing evidence is showing it was pretty bad advice, as population experiments go.

We know better now. There is a huge weight of evidence that just what you are claiming as fact is error, and is behind much of the obesity that is increasing exponentially across the world

One person you could read would be Michael Pollan, another would be Gary Taubes - he has a couple of lectures on youtube maybe.

If you had a mind to of course.

Me: not a food crank, but a physiologist who understands about where foods go in the body

Opinionated Mummy said...

I'm prepared to admit that I possibly got carried away and tried to be a scientist.

But my point remains the same. Education about food and its effects is all fine, but demonising food is not. The concept of banning or taxing foods, or throwing out posters that scream at us to step away from the sugar, do not change behaviours, and only serve to turn food into an illicit substance. If the desired outcome is reduced obesity rates and a healthier population, educating on ENJOYMENT of food would go further in encouraging people to enjoy a broader, and therefore healthier, range of food. Screaming at me in bright red capital letters to """""NOT EAT SUGAR!!!!""""" does not make me want to eat an apple.

The desire to create a healthier population is admirable, but the approach needs to change to being more positive.

Sus said...

Whilst abhoring the food-fascists and all it entails as much as the next libertarian - or punter with at least half a working brain - I fully agree with Amnion, and I've been echoing his/her comments for ten years.

I never bought into the bullshit about the "benefits" of a high-carb, low-fat diet pushed down our throats by health 'authorities' for a couple of decades now. Ever. Nor do I believe that saturated fats are harmful to one's health (unless taken in excess) ... but I certainly believe that manufactured polyunsaturated crap is. As is sugar, particularly in excessive amounts.

I've followed the French diet, by and large, for years. Full-fat everything - and no shortage of it, together with meat, fruit, veg & bread, etc. In other words, real food as opposed to processed muck. Buy it in season and it's good value, too. No weight problem; no food cravings.

The Americans talk about the "French Paradox", whereby the French eat the above, whilst maintaining the lowest rates of heart disease in the western world, as opposed to Americans who eat "99% low-fat this" and "100% processed that" and have the highest rates of heart disease/related conditions. And as for obesity, they're literally waddling their way to their graves.

Further, there is a direct correlation between the sugar consumption in national diets & the national rates of breast cancer.

This is a huge topic and way too big for a comment, but 'fat-free' invariably means 'sugar-saturated' when it comes to processed foods for taste reasons.

Does that mean I'm a puritan? Hardly. Life's about enjoying treats - I sure do - and only a fascist earth-parent or health authority Nazi would whinge about a little one having a biscuit or bit of chocolate, but the less sugar in one's diet, the better their health.


Opinionated Mummy said...

Thanks, Sus. Your comment:

"Full-fat everything - and no shortage of it, together with meat, fruit, veg & bread, etc. In other words, real food as opposed to processed muck. Buy it in season and it's good value, too. No weight problem; no food cravings."

I completely agree, and this is the sort of thing that I think any educational campaign should focus on. Not the negatives, but the positives. The current campaigns are a barrage of what is bad - honestly, there are forests of brochures etc in the kids' bags, but none of it is useful. How hard can it be to change the focus from "sugar is bad" to focusing on how much we can save by buying in season, or how much healthier it is to buy fresh, or healthy preparation techniques, and how it actually doesn't take that much longer to prepare than processed stuff.

The current marketing campaigns (at least, the ones that end up in the kindy bags) are negative and preachy.

brian_smaller said...

Hi OM. I suggest that you go to this site and see if you can find a link to the documentary the guy made debunking that "Supersize Me" mockumentary.

Funny and informative.

Kathleen Fuller PhD said...

When you get caught in fear you may tend to start to look at life as a victim. You might become machine-like in your automatic thoughts and habitual actions. This is slavery to the negativity of the restricting mind. Continue to take positive and balanced actions in food choices for yourself and your children and be sure to ask for help, if you need it.