October Blog 2012


By Clive Lindley-Jones | October 2, 2012 2:47 pm

Big Food: the Olympic Scam     

The other week  I enjoyed the last day of competition at the Para Olympic Aquatic Centre. Like many this summer, I was surprised at how powerfully positive the whole long summer  of sport redefined, at least  for ourselves, and perhaps for  other countries who may have noticed, who we are and what we are really like in the 21st century.

The Olympics, and particularly the impressive opening ceremony, helped us see ourselves in a new and positive, multi-racial, laid-back, amusing, self-depreciating and even  happy country, that, at times, was able to party and enjoy itself without too much bombast and hyperbole. Truly a summer of Wonder. So, it is with reluctance that I raise some less than happy aspects of our modern life, where it seems the only way we can finance good things is with the money from poor quality and damaging things.

According to the United Nations, diet-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, pose the greatest global threat to our health; to a staggering 35 million deaths per year, dwarfing the six to eight million smoking-related deaths each year. BBC News – Viewpoint: Ban junk food sponsors from Olympic sports. Added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol, argue Robert H. Lustig, et al .Public health: The toxic truth about sugar : Nature : Nature Publishing Group. New York officials want to stop people on low incomes using food stamps to buy fizzy drinks as part of a campaign against obesity.  Washington now has to decide whether to give the go-ahead to the scheme.BBC News – New York campaign to ban poor from buying fizzy drinks. I will be very surprised if this gets through the army of Big Food lobbyists who control most of those on Capital Hill. And, in case we feel superior about those fat Americans, at least we can take our hat off to those New York officials trying to do something to help the poorest in their society stay alive.  We are seeing very little action from our own politicians, and  Big Food has agreements tied up nicely until 2020 with the IOC, so don’t hold your breath about sponsorship changes any time soon.

Of course the Olympic committee are willing to support and stand up for their long  association with the likes of Coca-Cola.BBC News – 100 years of Olympic sponsorship.The Coke people are not stupid, they know that all they have to do to cover the scandal with a fig leaf, is to trumpet the fact that they “sponsor more than 250 physical activity and nutrition education programs in more than 100 countries and are committed to sponsoring a program in every country where it operates by the end of 2015”.

We are supposed to think this is a good thing and shut up. Well, it is intolerable. Why not have British American Tobacco or some Mexican drug cartel sponsor the games,  that would be, from a health perspective, far safer and better for the youth of the world. But of course this would be unacceptable. We need to make the likes of Coke equally unacceptable in polite society, after all with their deadly concoctions laced with High Fructose Corn Syrup to screw up the metabolisms of our children and anyone foolish enough to still be drinking the stuff, we are already in a global epidemic on a vast scale. BBC News – Sizing it up: The facts behind global obesity.

Who can afford to sponsor the Olympics? As we now know, after our sporting summer, the only companies both making sufficient profits and  keen to try and associate their products with healthy young athletes winning medals, are the purveyors of junk food, alcohol  and sugar drinks. It is good that someone has been able and willing to put money into the games as well as us tax payers, but it is sad, indeed, that is has to be from such dubious sources.

No politicians in our own, or most other countries, seem able, or willing,  to curb the overwhelming power of Big Food in their voracious  move  to sell us junk food and try and persuade us it is healthy. This summer in particular, it was sports drinks – more highly profitable  sugar and junk we are better off without. Big Food go out of their way to illegitimately connect their dubious wares in our minds with sporting excellence and youthful strength and vigour, and try and suggest that it is primarily physical activity that will reduce our growing obesity, which is clearly not true. What will the next ‘health hype’ be?

It is encouraging to see several television programmes bravely trying to question the prevailing dominance of these, basically immoral, companies. But, until we can pressurise our politicians to really stand up off their knees and use taxation and powerful sanctions to change the dysfunctional food  and supermarket industry to put our health above profit, we are destined to continue to get wave after wave of dubious ‘non-food’ products sold to us as if they were worthy of putting into our mouths and  washing over our genes.  The best advice I can give my patients is that, if it comes in a package and it has a health claim, be very suspicious. If it is advertised, avoid it. Who can afford to advertise a cabbage?

As Michael Pollen has pointed out, see Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. | Health & Wellness from Helix House,  we are living in a dysfunctional food culture that is fast infecting developing countries around the world. Rosemary Stanton Rosemary Stanton: Big Food gluttony  observes, in her excellent short article, in the Medical Journal of Australia, the influence exerted by pharmaceutical companies — often called Big Pharma — gets plenty of publicity. But what about the power exerted by the large food corporations? In the first in a series of articles on the food and beverage industry and health — Big Food — in PLoS Medicine, the authors start with the observation that the current global food system is virtually broken.

Perhaps now is the time to look again at the role of sponsorship in sport and ask the hard questions. Clearly the London Olympics, which cost each UK tax payer about £400 to put on and ten pence each  per medal, could not have happened  in their present form without sponsorship. I, for one, felt they were well worth the effort and cost. Both for the sport, but, more importantly, for the bonding and uniting effect across all classes and colours of our Islands.

The tough question we now have to ask ourselves is, in the light of the 35 million diet related deaths  per year world wide and the almost certain steady rise well beyond that figure each year we delay, can we afford to let  Big Food get the easy pass they are getting throughout the world and in almost every high street. Just because  people, and particularly the less well off,  choose to buy and consume  and die from the stuff, should we be allowing it or, in a more enlightened but sadly obese age,  should we be doing all we can to change our food world, towards a more beneficial, healthy and sustainable one? As the Alliance for Natural Health put it so well in their recent article this is a lost opportunity to educate the nation about good nutrition. Olympics 2012: A lost opportunity to educate a nation about good nutrition. It is ultimately up to us to put pressure both on our politicians and to vote with our cash.

“While it is wise to accept what we cannot change about ourselves, it is also good to remember that we are never too old to replace discouragement with bits and pieces of confidence and hope”.

Elaine Aron

Book of the Month

The Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing : How to live Longer,  Look Younger and Feel Great.

By Jerome Burne & Patrick Holford.  2012.

Notwithstanding the publishers irritating habit of pitching these kind of books with the spurious ‘come on’ of the  use of the word Secrets, this is  an informative, balanced and useful read for those interested in more that the usual bland platitudes about ageing. Dr. Michael Dixon, Chairman of the NHS Alliance says, “We all have choices when it comes to ageing well. This is a brilliant guide to making the right ones”. I would agree with him.

The science of Ageing is growing rapidly and it is an ever changing field of research knowledge and new breakthroughs. (Merck Manual has these rather depressing things to say about the changes we can expect with ageing, Changes in the Body With Aging: The Aging Body: Merck Manual Home Edition. Despite the great advances of modern high tech health care that have, undoubtedly added to the sum of human dignity and happiness, there is also a growing and unfortunate trend to bank all our hopes on likes of new gee-wiz poly-pills and other Big Pharma money spinners,  that will at a stroke (no pun intended) greatly reduce our risks of all sorts of nasty life shorteners such as heart disease, strokes and cancer and set us all on the road to blissful old age. This is, in my opinion, highly contentious. This book instead tells it like it is, for the great mass of us, who want to first avoid these killers, if we can, in more organic, effective and natural ways, and second want to avoid all the, often unmentioned, down sides of multiple drug cocktail  in later life.

We all die eventually of course, but this is a good guide to current thinking and evidence as to what you can do, both with lifestyle changes, food, exercise, food supplements, sleep, hormone balance etc., to stack the chances heavily in your favour of avoiding the unappetising years of disability, cognitive decline and dementia that increasingly is looking to be our lot if the likes of Big Food, and Big Pharma will have their way over our final decades.

Divided into three parts, Part one deals with the Truth about healthy Ageing and outlines a free on-line bioAge check you can do to see where you are now, Part two: the so called Ten Secrets, which are chapters about actions you can take to deal with Alzheimer’s, Joints and bones, Diabetes and Energy, Stress and Sleep, Youthful Skin, Cancer, Healthy Hearts, improving your digestion with out drugs, stopping eyesight deterioration and Natural anti-ageing Hormones. So not quite so secret after all! And Part 3 usefully goes on to outline an Anti-Ageing Action Plan and give you resources to make the kind of changes that science and our observations of longer living communities (like the Okinawans I wrote about last month), are showing may help us live at least more free from disability and  unnecessary drug-cocktail over doses late into our lives.

Two years ago Patrick Holford | Health & Wellness from Helix House I reviewed the first outing of the Burne and Holford writing team when they wrote the excellent book Food is Better Medicine than Drugs. Patrick had told me of this forthcoming book during a long, languid lunch in Southern Crete when we met by chance one holiday. He has consistently stuck his neck out over the years with many informative and iconoclastic books on food and health. Consequently, he has had the dubious privilege of much hostile blogging attention from the arch ‘sceptic’ Big Pharma loony lobby. Happily, this has not stopped him, or Medical journalist Jerome Burne, writing these interesting and informative books that are ahead of their time. Long may they have the courage, skill and scholarship to keep them coming!