Is “big food” science or politics?

Obesity isn’t healthy and it can be costly to the individual and the public because of the costs of treating it and associated problems.

There is evidence it’s a growing problem and it’s getting a lot of attention from researchers.

That would be good if the research resulted in evidenced based solutions, but is this science of politics?

Health advocates are drawing battle lines against “Big Food”, claiming drastic intervention is needed to stave off a diabetes crisis in New Zealand.

As adult obesity nears a third of the population, individual responsibility for diet and exercise is clearly not enough, said Dr Gabrielle Jenkin, an Otago University of Wellington health academic who is co-ordinating a seminar today in Wellington.

Government policymakers were reluctant to legislate against “Big Food” – industry powers such as Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Heinz Wattie’s, fast food chains and Foodstuffs and Progressive supermarkets, she said. Many so-called nutrition research bodies were sponsored by Big Food, she said. Dietitians New Zealand, for instance, stated on its website that it is backed by Unilever and Nestle.

Jenkin said “tainted” research was presented at select committees as unbiased fact. “They’re corrupting science.”

She claimed Big Food was more powerful than Big Tobacco, and likely to be more aggressive if policy turned against it.

The industry put the onus on individuals to fight obesity, so governments tended to promote diet and exercise rather than legislating against unhealthy food, she said. . .

Big Food is a statement based on emotion and politics not science.

The theory of weight gain or loss is simple – just get the balance between energy in and energy out correct.

The practice as anyone who has tried to gain or lose weight will attest, is far more difficult.

Food is different from other substances like alcohol or tobacco, we need it to survive and any particular food isn’t good or bad in itself.

Some is more nutritious and some has little if any nutritional value.

But anything in moderation isn’t going to cause weight gain and legislation elsewhere hasn’t worked:

 . . . Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union says:

“Denmark’s tax on saturated fat, introduced in 2011, was an economic disaster. The Danish tax was abandoned 15 months later and did little, if anything, to reduce harmful consumption. Worse, it was estimated to have cost 1,300 jobs. Why would New Zealand want to repeat this mistake?”

“Taxing the Kiwi tradition of a warm pie and can of coke won’t reduce obesity. The overseas experience is that fat taxes merely lead to compensatory purchasing and brand switching.” . .

Obesity is a serious problem and it needs serious, evidence0based solutions not emotion and politics.





11 Responses to Is “big food” science or politics?

  1. Andrei says:

    Non of this is actually the business of BIG GOVERNMENT – whether it be alcohol, drugs or Big Macs.

    And every effort to interfere in peoples personal; autonomy always ends up costing far more that its worth and has negative consequences for society as a whole.

    How long have we been trying to stamp out marijuana use again?

    Every summer we have helicopters seeking out marijuana plantations, paramilitary police raiding drug houses, we also have a new industry “legal highs” where substitutes for the illegal marijuana are sold and these may well be more harmful for the user.

    You would have thought with all the experience and sad history of attempting to legislate morality that our politicians would be wiser.

    But alas they are not……

  2. Paranormal says:

    As a child I read Judge Dredd comics. In one episode they had intel. there was a huge shipment of the illegal white powder to be smuggled into the city. After an action packed chase the tanker truck crashed spilling the white powder and the crisis was averted.

    The twist was the white powder wasn’t cocaine – it was sugar. Seems the 2000AD comics were prescient. This is how it starts…..

  3. robertguyton says:

    The suggestion that ‘industry powers such as Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Heinz Wattie’s, fast food chains and Foodstuffs and Progressive supermarkets’ would try to protect their industry by opposing suggestions that their products should be regulated because of a looming helath issue for the population, is outlandish, isn’t it! They wouldn’t behave like that, would they! No.
    What it comes down to is individual responsibility, doesn’t it – people who until now have been eating and drinking food and drink that has put them into the ‘health-threatened’ category, should just stop, shouldn’t they! Even if they are children. Even if 2 litres of sugar-saturated fizzy drink only costs $1. Even if there are influential advertisement playing, even if there’s a mountain of evidence that links excessive intake of sugar to diabetes – no, those weak-willed individuals, whose treatments are predicted to cost us taxpayers enormous amounts of money in the near and distant future, we should rely soley on the ability of individuals to just say no.




    (If David Farrar can do it, every single New Zealander can do it – it’s logical. If you’re a Right Winger.

  4. Andrei says:

    The “obesity epidemic” is just so much hot air, Robert Guyton .

    For the first time in human history we live in a society where the poor not starving to death in the streets is a reality.

    And we also live in a time where the life expectancy of an individual is eighty years or so – about double that of a couple of hundred years ago.

    Obesity is mostly a condition of the poor and it arises not through evil capitalism nor through “bad” lifestyle choices but through genetics and more limited food choices than the better off.

    I dined with little T and her mother at a pizza hutt the other night and we were discussing in casual conversation the so called “obesity epidemic” and looking around the restaurant, which was chocker there was not one person, not one that could in anyway be described as “obese”

  5. Paranormal says:

    So you would take over the responsibility of the children’s parents to feed their children healthy food. Where ever will that lead then….

    I’m with Andrei on this, the obesity ‘epidemic’ is just so much hot air. i do agree that cutting down on sugar is a good thing but getting the government to regulate it is not a solution. My recollection above is apropos don’t you think?

  6. robertguyton says:

    Genetics, Andrei?
    Then the playing field is not level – some people will find it harder than others to resist obesity-causing foods?
    I see.
    You dined at Pizza Hut and didn’t see obese people, so there is no problem?
    I see.

  7. robertguyton says:

    Your first claim/question is falsely made and reflects your own ideological fear, paranormal.
    I’ve not referred to any ‘obesity epidemic’ so am not interested in defending the term. I do wonder though, how your unsubstantiated claim stacks up against that of the authors of reports that do use it.

  8. Andrei says:

    Genetics, Andrei?
    Then the playing field is not level

    No “the playing field is not level” – never has been never will.

    This may surprise you Robert Guyton but people of Polynesian descent have higher BMIs than those of Northern European descent as do the Inuits etc of the North. While people who ancestors came from Northern Kenya and Ethopia have lower BMIs than most Europeans- its in the genes you see.

    And as science is revealing we all carry within our genes certain time bombs which if we live long enough are highly likely or certain to nail us.

    Thus we are seeing to today women having their breasts removed because of a high likelihood of breast cancer and others having their lower internal regions explored on a regular basis due to high probabilities that they will develop bowel cancer in the hope of cutting it off at the pass as they say.

    Something is going to get you, Robert Guyton, and the Government can pass every fucking lame brained law that anyone can think up but you are still going to end up feeding the worms

  9. robertguyton says:

    “Something is going to get you, Robert Guyton, and the Government can pass every fucking lame brained law that anyone can think up but you are still going to end up feeding the worms”

    Getting a little crazy there, Andrei.

    I’ll pass on continuing this discussion, thanks.

  10. Paranormal says:

    Can something self inflicted and with such a vague definition (under BMI I am considered obese) be considered an epidemic/ Only in the minds of those with a political agenda.

    As for the government trying to take over the role of parents – you should consider removing your own ideological blinkers and look at the damage it has done to our society for the past 40 years.

  11. Andrei says:

    I’ll pass on continuing this discussion, thanks

    Makes a note – remind Robert Guyton of the grim reality of his own mortality whenever he has caused a blog thread to jump the shark.

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