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Doctors' plan for war on sugar (theage.com.au)
85 points by okket on Jan 7, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments

Seeing a few comments about "personal responsibility" here. I used to feel this way, but only toward behavior that came naturally to me. For things I have to work toward, it's always a work in progress.

There are a good amount of productivity hacks and emphasis on time management skills on HN; should I dismiss those articles with a complaint about personal responsibility? No. 'Just try harder' rarely works. If it was that easy, you wouldn't have to try harder in the first place.

Personal responsibility exists, but the human brain is lazy and impulsive, and it takes a ton of outside intervention to get it aligned with modern society (parents, schooling, socialization, etc.). It's no wonder we have appetite control problems since we're dealing with human hardware that's hundreds of thousands of years old.

Completely agree. Personal responsibility is what you teach your kids, not how you design effective systems.

Heh, I could interpret your comment in 2 opposing ways, not sure which one you meant.

To be clear, I have mixed feelings on the "war on sugar". It's just that the "Whatever happened to personal responsibility" cliche others have brought up is shortsighted.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Seattle Sugar Tax [0]. Forgive me I don't know much about it and I don't live in Seattle, but I saw this on the /r/seattle subreddit and was surprised. (I am entertaining the idea of relocating to Seattle from Austin. Thus, that's why I was browsing that subreddit.)

[0] https://i.redd.it/0sfewnke5h801.jpg

It looks like such a tax has been introduced in quite a few places now, with results ranging from okay to good.


Since you brought up Seattle, Washington. I think its crazy that there is a city tax on a substance that also receives a taxpayer-funded government subsidy. It like how much does the tax payer need to bleed itself to the government, all in the name of his\her health I'm sure.

Also I'm sure they will see less soda being bought inside the city, that is a win right? Except people are just shopping outside city limits. Kinda like dry counties were you just pick up your booze on the way home.

To avoid a nanny state, I'd prefer to see taxation and education be the sole solutions. People should be allowed to eat whatever they want, but they need to pay their own healthcare costs somehow.

> I'd prefer to see taxation and education be the sole solutions

The market is incapable of self-regulation, that much has shown itself to be true. Removal of marketing towards children and easy access to vending machines will go a long way in improving public health in Australia. The days of avoiding a nanny state in Australia are pretty much gone, the government regulates everything, and for the most part it hasn't actually been bad at all.

> but they need to pay their own healthcare costs somehow.

Terrible idea, Medicare is one of Australia's shining institutions (even with all it's bureaucratic flaws). The American healthcare model has literally 0 chance of ever being adopted in Australia. The simple fact is we live in a socialised society, and so when burdens are placed on the public infrastructure from profit hungry corporations, the natural response is to regulate and deal with it. We saw it with cigarettes, hopefully we see it with sugar, and one day with alcohol too.

> but they need to pay their own healthcare costs somehow.

I think you should read this as arguing for Tax on Negative Externality, also called a Pigovian tax. Such taxation aims to solve the problem that the social cost of a market activity is not covered by the private cost of the activity.

I agree with you in regards to a nanny state. However, the human mind is a complex beast and saying that "People should be allowed to eat whatever they want" isn't really that simple. A lot of people don't eat what they want, they eat what they're being told/advertised to eat. We're all susceptible to this in one way or another.

Stopping advertising sugary junk to kids would be a positive move without becoming a nanny state. I believe the UK government tried at on point but gave in to massive lobbying from Kellogs. But really obesity can lead to massive suffering an early death that should outweigh making a few bucks selling frosties.

Well it sure seems like that’s exactly what they’re proposing, with the fairly narrow (and, IMO, reasonable) exception of banning sugary snacks from hospitals.

> It also says a tax on sweetened drinks should be introduced as a "matter of priority".

Good. Sugar is a horribly addictive substance, and the outcomes of it's consumption and abuse are a massive drain on Australia's public health infrastructure. Hopefully however the sugar tax is coupled with some form of subsidy or relief from high prices of healthier alternatives (the groundwork exists with a GST exemption for fruit & veg) because obesity has a disproportionate affect on people in lower income brackets due to how cheap and easy it is to buy some processed garbage.

The outcomes of going outside without a hat and sunscreen are a drain too; in Australia, skin cancer kills thousands of people per year and requires hundreds of thousands of people per year to be treated.

Should going outside without a hat on be ticketable?

And what about people over 70, falls cause many bone and brain injuries, and many deaths in the elderly, and it's expensive and dangerous. Should we require a helmet and kneepads for anyone over 70 to be work at all times when walking?

And what about salt? Heart problems come from more places than obesity, and it's heart problems that are a huge drain on the healthcare system; will we also ban salt?

How about a sedentary office lifestyle, this is also bad for your health, will we tax sitting? Will the gym, like voting, become compulsory in Australia?

You can make up all these outrageous examples which don't correlate to what I said in any way shape or form at all as much as you like, but just know you aren't convincing anyone or making a compelling argument.

Skin cancer and heart disease are major issues as is the elderly falling over, and if there were predatory organisations which were peddling products that abused human weakness to capitalize on addiction, or running around pushing old people over, I think we should look into handling those organizations. However salt and sunshine are absolutely vital to the proper functioning of the human body, whereas eating a bag of skittles and downing six bottles of coke is not. And corporations are out there peddling sugar because it sells, and that is predatory behaviour and the bill is footed by the Australian public for the profit seeking of a tiny minority. That is what this recommendation seeks to stop.

A good argument, and a reasonable one, but we do have game, TV, and social media companies doing whatever they can to ensure a sedentary life of staring at screens, since the more you sit and stare (and develop mental and physical health problems) the more ads or iaps they can feed you and profit from. No one suggest we tax sitting or screen time.

I'll concede sun and salt are in a different category, but it seems morally wrong to tax my sugar because someone else can't moderate their own intake. Why is it our position anyway, to tell someone what they can't do if it doesn't affect us? If we tax sugar, alcohol, salt, etc, then the man who has these each in moderation, once a month or whatever, is now paying higher taxes not on one product, but across the board, where none of it harms him because he partakes rarely of any one category.

If you eat less than the average amount of sugar then a sugar tax is equivalent to giving you money by reducing your tax burden at the expense of others.

That's true, but limiting someone else's freedom to save yourself some money seems to me to be pretty evil. -- I guess what you said doesn't conflict with that idea.

Australia already has some of the highest taxes on cigarettes. They have nationalized healthcare also, so a sugar tax can be seen more as reducing society healthcare costs, which are born by everyone more equally, rather than anything else. So the sugar tax can lower your taxes even if you don’t impuslively eat sugar, by lowering your burden in supporting nationalized healthcare (the goal behind the cigarette tax as well).

If this was America where much of the healthcare wasn’t socialized and it was every poor schlob for themselves, then you might have a point.

We are not telling someone what they can’t do, why do people keep saying that? I like a sugary drink as well, and I am happy for everyone including myself to pay more if it imporoves health.

Tax at some point is so burdensome as to be an effective ban. If a can of Coke is $250 then you're not really free to drink it.

It's been done with cigarettes.

Income inequality has adverse effects on the economy and quality of life in a country, should we throw the top 1% in jail?

No, because that's some crap I just made up to sound ridiculous. You could, however, tax the top 1% more than the bottom 99%.

The severity of the negative incentive has to match the severity of the action/inaction. This includes whether the negative incentive is passive or active, i.e. taxing someone is less severe than fining them.

I don't think these are equivalent at all.

Sugar is incorporated into almost every food by corporations to increase addiction & taste. It's a slippery slope, thus, taxes makes sense.

Similar to tobacco.

people ate loads of sugar before modern processed foods. the consumption of sugar is not something that was forced upon us by evil corporations.

taxes don't make sense because people will just substitute sugary foods for other types of food. isocaloric exchange of sugar for other nutrients doesn't lead to weight loss. so the end result is that consumers pay more for something they enjoy (sweet food and drink) without any public health benefit.

How about making nutrition facts label to tell me how much added sugar per serving. Yesterday, I had to search the internet to find added sugar in Chobani yogurt.

Then we make law to print warning labels about the danger of sugar on every product that has added sugar.

These would be more effective than tax.

I would prefer a war on processed foods if you absolutely need the the war metaphor. The sugar issue would resolve itself if people ate mainly real foods. For example: don't drink fruit juice but eat fruit.

This is an incoherent standard, though. Fruits are better than fruit juice because they retain the fruit's fiber, not because they were "processed". What does "processed" even mean? Nothing coherent. We can and should and honestly must be processing foods in ways that are conducive to health and environmental friendliness (think Soylent, Beyond Meat, the Impossible Burger as the earliest attempts at this) - and not making some ridiculously arbitrary decision.

Fruit juice you buy in the store goes through a lot of processing. Do you know how many oranges you need to make a glass of juice? You would never eat that many in one sitting. So a glass of store bought fruit juice gives you much more sugar than you would get eating real fruit.

Things like veggie burgers are probably a little better but when I look at the ingredient list it's still scary long. I can make burgers myself from around 5 ingredients or less.

> Things like veggie burgers are probably a little better but when I look at the ingredient list it's still scary long. I can make burgers myself from around 5 ingredients or less.

Sure, but why is 5 ingredients better? That's the question you haven't offered any defense of.

I just ate a sandwich. I put three kinds of peppers on it. Would it have been better for me if I'd only put two? It had soy-based meant on it. Would it have been better for me if it'd had regular ham instead?

"Less processed" might be a useful heuristic for health, and "fewer ingredients" is likely a useful heuristic for "less processed", but you've presented no evidence for that claim, and it's definitely very far from universally true.

Again, this is really just completely incoherent. "Processing" is a word that means thousands of different and completely unrelated processes. The "number of ingredients" in a food is also a completely incoherent metric - there are hundreds of unique "ingredients" in every natural food on Earth, we just don't report them.

If you think that a specific process, like squeezing oranges, results in a product that has less nutritional value in comparison to a different product (whole oranges), then great. Say that. That is an actionable, specific, testable, and coherent nutritional guideline for society. Meaningless, unscientific buzzwords aren't what we should base nutritional guidelines and policy on.

>Do you know how many oranges you need to make a glass of juice?

Nope but one orange has 12-17g of sugar and one cup of OJ has 21g. So maybe about two. I could easily eat that in one sitting.

I’ve watched an orange juicing machine turn oranges into juice at Starbucks (well, in France anyways), so we know. Not good for you, but it didn’t undergo any processing.

I would like to see more evidence that fruit is much better than fruit juice, beyond the fact that it is easier to over-consume the juice. The sugar content of fruit still makes it suspect as a net-negative to a diet. There are better sources of fiber.

About time.

I don't get why as humans we like to have "wars on things", can't we just educate people about things and use some self control to tackle these kind of issues.

I mean look what happened to "the war on fat", the sugar war will be no different. I feel that excess consumption of artificial sweeteners, salts or fats will be the next problem.

There are industry giants who profit from you over-consuming certain things. So that side of the "war" is just built into our markets. Getting people to change their behavior takes active counter-balancing.

I don't know if I believe this narrative much any more, it's like we blame markets for our own lack of personal responsibility and consciousness.

It's the same for climate change. People constantly think it's governments that need to fix climate change without making any of their own lifestyle changes to help address the issue.

Maybe you're right, but these markets exist because people buy these products. Coca-cola got to where it was today because people drank it by the kilolitre.

I've lost 60kg in the last 3 years, so I know a little about weight loss.

I found it REALLY hard in modern society. I could do it as I am well off, but it is very difficult to eat cheaply and healthily.

Many people have appetites which lead to them only wanting to eat a healthy about of food. If you are like that, great! I, like many other people, do not. I'm hungry all the time and almost any food it is easy to get contains a huge amount of unfilling but tasty calories.

>it is very difficult to eat cheaply and healthily

Word. It simply is impossible to eat cheaply and healthily. Cheap or even reasonably priced food is usually rubbish or requires so much cooking that the savings on the food itself are countered by the price of cooking it.

>Cheap or even reasonably priced food is usually rubbish or requires so much cooking that the savings on the food itself are countered by the price of cooking it.

A good electric pressure cooker can cook things very efficiently. It's even better than a traditional pressure cooker because it's insulated. You can cook dried beans with it easily, and dried beans are cheap. It's good for rice too, which is also cheap. Add some frozen vegetables and eggs and you have a reasonably cheap and healthy diet.

Congrats if you find a spouse who's onboard with eating, and feeding your kids, rice and beans for a significant percentage of your dinners and lunches, unless you're so poor the alternative is starving.

Staying healthy solo is easy. Staying healthy as a family is hard.

Works for most of the third world, and that's where Western people people go for holidays and come home and talk about how good the food is.

Thinking about places like: Mexico, India, Sri-Lanka.

That pressure cooker is around $120 though if it’s the one I’m thinking about. Also, we use it mostly for baby food (well, his solids) and still stir fry most of our own meals. People shouldn’t underestimate stir frying: you can take a half a bag of baby spinach ($2/bag, cheaper if you can find some full leafs in good condition, but hard to do that) and cook it with a dab of sesame oil and it comes out pretty good.

And really, the hardest part of eating well is definitely the cost, but also the knowledge (what I know today could have made college-me much more effective!).

This is exactly why personal responsibility is a terrible argument. Individual lifestyle choices are responsible for a tiny part of climate change, compared to industrial ones. Likewise, it’s silly to ignore the major impact corn subsidies have on the sugar crisis.

I sort of lucked out when the whole war on fat and the wave pf processed food hit in the 1970's. I had these older relatives that were in good health and other than dirt and they didn't buy any of it. I decided that I would just try and eat like them.

What I've noticed is over the years more and more in stores 'food items' are things I absolutely will not buy.

> it's like we blame markets for our own lack of personal responsibility and consciousness.

The flip side is well paid professionals that come to work every day to work relentlessly to exploit weaknesses in peoples personal responsibility and consciousness.

>it's like we blame markets for our own lack of personal responsibility and consciousness.

I've read that new research say, "Sugar is more addictive than cocaine." So does personal responsibility still apply?

> these markets exist because people buy these products.

Indeed. But when a poorly educated population with few alternatives ia actively marketed to[1], then perhaps the outcome is more a reflection of corporate exploitation than a reflection of informed consumer choices.

[1] http://www.lapoliticaeslapolitica.com/2013/03/in-mexico-coca...

Well, don't forget who picks up the bill when someone lacks personal responsibility: everyone else. Meanwhile, some people profit off of it.

> Can't we just educate people about things and use some self control to tackle these kind of issues

How has that been working out so far?

For me personally, rather well. By girlfriend has taught me to love chocolate so much that we only buy the most exquisite kind and savour it. A box of sweets can stay opened in the living room for weeks, sometimes with some pieces half-eaten.

I think it comes down to a certain healthy degree of (acquired) snobbery towards what you eat. If availability of food is no longer a concern, snobbery can very well take it's place! For example I could not imagine treating myself to eating a Hershey bar or Dunking donuts or whatever. Same as I wouldn't eat off the garbage bins behind a restaurant.

Great. This isn’t about you though, it is about everyone. And it isn’t working for them.

True. If we talk about everyone, then in a society where you are far more likely to suffer from obesity than starvation or malnutrition, "everyone" is doing a disservice to their children by not raising them to be the biggest most obnoxious food snobs ever.

Good for you. Must be great to have enough energy and willpower from a carefree life.

About as well as any of the Wars on X.

Came here to say exactly this. A war is essentially a failure mode of the human civilization, when our innate biological ability to divide people into Us and Them gets the best of us and enables us to do unspeakable things. Such a failure mode must be recognised as such, but it's use is not to be diluted as an euphemism for solving everyday issues. Millions of people hastily buried in the 20th century would likely disagree with us using this word too lightly..

We need a new war on wars on things, to end all wars on things.

My thoughts exactly, when we go too far things get distorded which backfires. Sugar is good, just limit it, thus don't eat processed food that tastes like sht unless the producer sink it in sugar (often from the lack of fat too)

Does education work, in terms of improving health? Does it work better than regulation?

I guess there should be data on this (in relation to tobacco/ alcohol).

My personal biases tell me that people don’t have great self control. Shifting social norms, such that over-consumption is less socially acceptable might help. But that’s hard to do (and something different than education).

> Does education work, in terms of improving health?

No. This has been beaten to death in dozens of studies going back to the 50s. Education does not trump brain chemistry.

> Shifting social norms, such that over-consumption is less socially acceptable might help.

It would help a lot, but food purity laws would help more. It would be nice if I could find a loaf of bread in a supermarket that didn't have HFCS in it.

If you have a link to a good study, I would be interested in reading.

Regarding beard, curiously enough I’ve just started using a bread maker. Takes 5mins to setup in the evening and can be timed to have the bread ready when you wake up, recommend.

Wish granted. Wonder bread is made with real sugar.


Not completely sure it's bread, though.

It's not just self control. The amount of money companies spend to feed disinformation in journals, advertisement, and to dominate shelf space makes for less educated people to be easily exploited.

> My personal biases tell me that people don’t have great self control. Shifting social norms, such that over-consumption is less socially acceptable might help.

This is the key. We are social animals and we heavily regulate what we eat based on what other people eat.

But we have been socialised to avoid strong judgement of obese people.

Personally, I refuse to eat with obese friends unless they are actively trying to eat a healthy and well proportioned meal.

In the same way that I don't hang out with friends when they smoke.

Think about the difference in social response you will get if you admit you don't eat with obese people vs you won't sit at a table of smokers while they smoke!

But I don't care. I've been obese and I'm not going back.

"can't we just educate people about things and use some self control"

I hope you understand that there are a lot of very intelligent people working at food companies who work on undermining people's self control and hooking children to their products. This is a losing battle for a lot of people.

War on poverty, War on drugs, War on childhood obesity, War on terror, And to an even greater extent the many wars we’ve been fighting and failing to win for decades in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam...


Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together

...All while a few become unfathomably wealthy and powerful, and the rest move in the opposite direction. All while we fail to invest in infrastructure, quality education, and functional public health, mental health, and nutrition.

Your comment would be relevant if this post was about the US, but it's not, it's about Australia. I recommend you read the link

Australia is more or less the US in the 60’s, if I’m being generous. Not to mention this same policy is being debated in the UK, and US.

Edit: pop this into Google: war on sugar uk usa

Watch: "That Sugar Film", "Sugar Coated", "Fed Up".

Sugar is not the primary problem. I eat copious amounts of sugar (probably too much). This ranges from refined sugar in sweets, lots of fruits, juices and even soda. I've been vegetarian for over a decade now, and my BMI Is 23.5, my body fat percentage is 14.5% and my blood sugar level is still considered in the good range for preventing diabetes. I don't think the problem is sugar, the problem is living a sedentary life style, and perhaps even eating lots of processed red meats.

My point being, a war on sugar is the wrong way to battle the obesity crisis. Get people to eat more fruits and veggies and to spend more active time outdoors.

My dad smoked for 50 years until quitting in his 70's. Now, at age.80, he's still healthy as a horse. However, I wouldn't draw a conclusion from an anecdotal data point and say cigarettes aren't a health hazard.

Now I'm curious, why did he quit? Smoking regular cigarettes with foam-filters kills me fast, but smoking organically grown tobacco without additives and filters doesn't seem to do much harm from my experience. I'm pretty sure we're not being told the whole truth about tobacco.

He had some type of surgery on his sinuses. He also had high blood pressure showed signs of heart arrhythmia. Nothing out of the ordinary for a person his age.

>but smoking organically grown tobacco without additives and filters doesn't seem to do much harm from my experience.

Get an x-ray or ct scan of your lungs. Or get your VO2max tested. Quit for a month and try testing it again. I assure you, you'll see a difference just from your airways and nasal passages not being inflamed.

I'm pretty sure the radiation would do more harm. I'm not saying it's healthy, I'm just saying it's not the same thing as the crap the research is based on. And I have quit for longer periods without seeing much difference.

Do you know the difference between anecdotes and science?

Please don't post snarky dismissals to Hacker News, regardless of how wrong someone else is or you feel they are.

This sort of comment is pure regression to the mean, which is not what we want HN to be.

Here's some science then. Based on analyzing food groups controlled with total calorie consumption, it was found that meat availability is most highly correlated with obesity: https://bmcnutr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40795-01...

So you are saying that when you eat the same amount of calories, meat is better at getting you fat? How does this debunk the problems with sugar in your view?

Note that it studies meat availability, not meat consumption.

You get more likely fat by looking at meat?

Besides that, I agree that meat is a superior food compared to sugar and it will get you more easily fat, if compared on calorie by calorie base.

But this does not say anything about the addictiveness of sugar or the health problems that come from overconsumption (diabetes, etc).

Will say, most people can control their meat intake (some not), but most can not control how much sugar they consume. Especially if it is omnipresent and hidden in many foods you might not suspect.

  meat... will get you more easily fat if compared on calorie (for) calorie (basis)
I think that's exactly wrong. I can think of no mechanism by which, say, 1000 calories of excess fat+protein would cause more net fat gain than 1000 calories of excess carbohydrate.

How about if one results in you later consuming fewer calories than the other by affecting the production (and reception) of leptin, insulin, and maybe a dozen other hormones?

Yes, that's exactly the point -- meat/fat have much higher satiety than carbohydrate and less effect on insulin.

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