A bad rap for sugar

Sugar is so convenient, isn’t it? If you believe the people behind the (predictably challenging-to-watch) film Fed Up, sugar has been a convenient way to hoodwink America into a full-scale obesity epidemic. But even more than that, it turns out to offer a really convenient way to explain away any complexities related to health and eating. Or just as a target for a (simple syrupy) finger of blame.

There have already been several excellent reviews of what’s wrong with Fed Up (very well summarised most recently by Harriet Hall), so I’ll just mention a few points that stuck out for me.

First, a scene in which a Dr. David Allison (basically introduced as a shill for Coca-Cola, but who in fact has a Pretty Impressive set of credentials) is asked a question. He asks for a few moments to gather his thoughts, but we never hear his answer, and those 10 seconds of awkward camera silence are not edited out. This came across as some pretty insidious film-making, as Baylen Linnekin also picked up on in his review for Reason from earlier this year:

The film’s brief gotcha moment, for example, centers on Professor David Allison of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose public-health research the filmmakers targeted because, the filmmakers say, it’s been funded by food companies.

“Unfortunately, despite my repeated requests, the producers have not provided me an opportunity to view the film yet and therefore I cannot comment in detail,” Allison told me by email this week.

“I am told from others who have seen the film that a clip is shown in which I am asked a question about how one would ideally test whether sugar sweetened beverages contribute to obesity, and that I ask for a few moments to collect my thoughts; after showing me think for about 10 seconds, the camera cuts away before I give my answer,” says Allison, who hasn’t seen the film. “If this is the case, the film-makers’ behavior seems counter to thoughtful dialogue. To ask me a question and edit out the answer, and I did answer every question, shows a lack of interest in a discussion of the evidence.”

That is indeed the case. And it’s shameful behavior on the part of Couric, who Allison tells he me he recalls speaking with on camera for the film for at least an hour.

Second, one of the first talking heads in the film is Dr. Mark Hyman (who is not introduced as a regular contributor to the Katie Couric show and a proponent of *cough* Functional Medicine), who starts out by poo-pooing the “personal responsibility” model for health. He actually says “Forget about it” (though not quite fuggedaboutit). Then very curiously towards the film’s conclusion, he advises that one way to change the disaster that is our appetite is to “start locally – as local as your fork. Everybody has a choice, three times a day, about what they put on that thing”.

So I guess as long as broccoli is involved, then it’s all about personal responsibility, but once sugar is in the picture then we’re basically all zombies who Cannot Say No. Which essentially turns us into little children, which is why sugar is bad for children (or something). Logical, no?

But don’t take my word for it – Tim Noakes just proved this by having or attending a sugar-free birthday party:

sugar calm

Or maybe the calmness was because everyone was just really bored, because the apparent link between sugar and hyperactive kids has been debunked (or, has as yet failed to be demonstrated) again and again.

Poor sugar. I feel sorry for it. It doesn’t deserve such a bad rap. But apparently meat-free Mondays do: