Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Shrinking food

According to the Guardian on Tuesday, Brexit has caused food to get smaller. It's not true, as the Office for National Statistics explicitly says. Neither the ONS nor the Guardian mentioned one of the real reasons for shrinkflation: the government.

I've written about this for Cap-X.

Limiting calories in everyday food items, backed up with the threat of legal coercion, has been government policy for several years. So too is shrinkflation. They are features, not bugs, of Britain’s ‘health by stealth’ strategy.

Do have a read.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The 5% sugar guideline is not evidence-based

Last June I wrote an article for Spectator Health in which I promised a follow-up article to explain why the UK's new(ish) sugar guidelines have no basis in science. After Public Health England's car crash interview on More or Less, I thought I'd better get on and write it so here it is.

It's actually worse than I thought. The new guidelines are based on a report from the Scientific Advisory on Nutrition Committee. I'd read the report before but I hadn't read the studies cited by the committee. Foolishly, I'd assumed SACN would would have fairly represented the science. In fact, not only do the studies offer no support for the arbitrary 5% guideline, many of them flatly contradict the whole sugar=poison narrative.

Here's a summary of them, in the order they are listed in the SACN report...

Drummond and Kirk (1998) advised one group of men to reduce their fat intake and another group of men to reduce both fat and sugar. After six months, the men who had only been advised to reduce fat intake had lost the most weight. The authors conclude that ‘it is surprising that many dietary guidelines recommend a reduction in sugar.’

Drummond et al. (2003) used the same methodology as above but this time neither group succeeded in reducing their fat intake. Although the men who were told to reduce their sugar intake did so, they compensated by consuming more calories from other carbohydrates and therefore did not reduce overall energy consumption.

Reid et al. (2010) gave a litre of sugary drinks to a group of overweight women every day and gave a litre of artificially-sweetened drinks to another group of overweight women. They were not told whether their drinks had sugar in them or not. Those given the sugary drinks increased their overall energy consumption in the first week but, surprisingly, energy intake then fell and within four weeks it was lower than it was when the study began – despite sugar now making up 20 per cent of these women’s daily calorie intake. This was because they reduced their consumption of fat, protein and non-sugar carbohydrates, totally offsetting the extra sugar. They did not gain weight.

Saris et al. (2000) divided 398 obese men into three groups. One group was given a diet low in fat and high in sugar while another was given a diet low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. The third (control) group ate a normal diet. After six months, both low-fat groups had lost weight, with the high complex carbohydrate group losing the most. The authors note that ‘[i]n the search for dietary factors associated with the development of obesity, sugar intake is commonly proposed. However, epidemiological and experimental data do not support this idea.’

Aeberli et al. (2011) split their subjects into six groups and gave five of them soft drinks with varying degrees of sucrose, fructose and glucose. The control group was advised to reduce fructose intake. The researchers found that ‘total energy intake did not differ significantly between the baseline and any of the 6 interventions.’ It is not clear what relevance this has to the question SACN sought to answer.
Brynes et al. (2003) split seventeen men into four groups and gave each group different diets. Those on the high fat diet spontaneously consumed more calories, those on the high sugar diet did not.

Poppitt et al. (2002) split 39 people into three groups in the same way as Saris et al. (2000) above. Both low-fat groups lost weight, with the high complex carbohydrate group losing the most. The authors conclude: ‘A high sugar intake has been proposed as a causal factor in the etiology of obesity. The results of epidemiologic studies, however, oppose this view and are supported by our current trial. Despite a considerable increase in sugar intake, there was no evidence of weight gain in the LF-SC group.’

Njike et al. (2011) gave one group of men two cups of sugary cocoa a day and gave another group two cups of sugar-free cocoa a day. After six weeks neither group had lost weight compared to a group of men who were given a placebo, although the sugar-free cocoa ‘had a modest, favorable influence on waist circumference’. Overall sugar consumption was not measured.

Raben et al. (2002) split 41 overweight people into two groups. One group was given a very high sugar diet (28 per cent of daily energy), mostly in the form of soft drinks. The other group was given a large quantity of artificially sweetened soft drinks. Both groups were told that their supplements were artificially sweetened and they could eat whatever they wanted. Unsurprisingly, the high sugar group consumed more calories and gained weight, but the additional calorie intake was entirely due to the extra sugar. Energy intake from other food fell, partially offsetting the additional sugar calories.

Reid et al. (2007) gave half their subjects a litre of Irn-Bru a day. The other half were given Diet Irn-Bru. Specially branded bottles were marked ‘sugar’ or ‘diet’ but these were deliberately incorrect 50 per cent of the time. Subjects given the sugary drinks increased their overall energy intake, with calorie consumption rising by around half the amount of that contained in the drinks, ie. they partially offset half of the calories by reducing consumption of fat, protein and non-sugar carbohydrates. There was surprisingly little weight gain, perhaps because all the women were on a low fat diet. ‘Overall,’ the authors conclude, ‘there was no evidence that sucrose was a unique or problematic substance.’
SACN built a meta-analysis out of these studies and concluded that people shouldn't consume more than 5% of their calories from sugar, despite the fact that the studies are not comparable, most of them didn't measure sugar intake as a percentage of calorie intake and those which did measure it didn't in any way imply a five per cent limit.

It's junk science, plain and simple. Do read the whole article.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Cooking with The Lancet

The Lancet has got into bed with EAT to transform the global food supply. EAT is a campaign group run by a Norwegian billionaire who flies around the world in a private jet telling people to eat less meat to save the planet. The Lancet's interest is in getting people to live off lentils for the good of their health.

How much less meat do these people think we should be eating? Much, much less. Less than a sausage a week would be the pork ration in their brave new world.

Inevitably, the authors of the EAT-Lancet report call for tough government action to get the plebs to eat a peasant diet. I have written about it for Spectator Health.

To comply with these extraordinary demands, the UK would all have to cut meat consumption by 80 per cent and massively increase its consumption of beans, lentils, soy and nuts. This is not going to happen voluntarily and the committee knows it. It calls on politicians to do more ‘choice editing’ (ie. banning things).

The authors want more taxes on food, more advertising restrictions and the ‘banning and pariah status of key products’ (which ‘key products’? Fizzy drinks? Chips?). They want local authorities to ban new takeaway food outlets ‘in low-income areas’ (but apparently not in high income areas) even though they admit that the evidence that ‘zoning regulations could increase healthy food consumption or reduce BMI [body mass index] is scarce’ (indeed it is).

They state their preferred option bluntly: ‘restrict choice’ or, better still, ‘eliminate choice’. In wealthy countries such as Britain, ‘a priority is to offer less than what is currently offered by reducing portions, choice, and packaging’. They even propose ‘rationing on a population scale’.

Do have a read.

To see how puritanical the Lancet's guidelines are, watch me try to make some meals out of them in these three videos....

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The slippery slope: gambling edition

In an interview with the FT in 2017, casino tycoon Derek Webb announced his plans for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling once the government had stamped out fixed-odds betting terminals.

He adds he may broaden CFG’s focus to target online gambling next. “I want to fight where I can win,” says Mr Webb.

As I recall, he made a similar comment about going after internet gambling at the Conservative Party conference at around the same time.

The FOBT clamp-down takes place in April and the All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs is already looking for new dragons to slay...

The press release says:

The Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has today (14 January) formally announced that it will be changing its name to the Gambling Related Harm APPG.

.. Going forward, the group will now begin looking at gambling related harm more widely.

Carolyn Harris MP, the chairwoman of this lobby group masquerading as an APPG said:

'... many of us are deeply concerned about the harms caused by online gambling and particularly the impact and harm of online gambling on children. We are therefore beginning our new work programme but [sic] undertaking an inquiry looking at the harm caused specifically by online gambling.'

Online gambling is virtually non-existent among children, unless you include kids buying lottery tickets for their parents, so this is another disingenuous think-of-the-children justification for interfering in the lives of adults.

But isn't it a coincidence that the APPG is going after online next, just as Derek Webb said he would? Still, it should go down well with the APPG's selfless donors, such as Bacta, Electrocoin, Sutton Bingo, Club 2000, Southsea Island Leisure, Game World, Summertime Leisure, Hippodrome Casino, Riva Bingo Club, Caesers, Marshalls Amusements, Genting UK, Praesepe and, of course, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

After the FOBT clamp-down was announced last year, the Independent published a story that explained what had really been going. It was the first time a mainstream journalist had broached the subject...

Why are MPs patting themselves on the back over the FOBTs crackdown? They've been played by the gambling industry

.. [MPs] have failed the very problem gamblers they claim to speak for by jumping on the bandwagon of a debate almost entirely devoid of facts, and which has been heavily influenced by competing gambling industry interests.

Those interests, facilitated, it must be said, by a compliant media, have fed the public a simple morality tale that makes for easy journalism and plays well on social media; a battle fought on behalf of innocent gamblers by plucky politicians against greedy bookmakers.

Will MPs and the media fall for it again?

Philadelphia's soda tax flop

The results are in from much vaunted soda tax in Philadelphia and it's the same old story...

We analyze the impact of a tax on sweetened beverages, often referred to as a “soda tax,” using a unique data-set of prices, quantities sold and nutritional information across several thousand taxed and untaxed beverages for a large set of stores in Philadelphia and its surrounding area. We find that the tax is passed through at a rate of 75-115%, leading to a 30-40% price increase. Demand in the taxed area decreases dramatically by 42% in response to the tax. There is no significant substitution to untaxed beverages (water and natural juices), but cross-shopping at stores outside of Philadelphia completely offsets the reduction in sales within the taxed area. As a consequence, we find no significant reduction in calorie and sugar intake.

This is exactly what happened in Berkeley, California.

National Review has more...

Poor Philadelphians were hardest hit by the tax because residents with the means to leave the city to make their soda purchases — the well-off — did so. A 42 percent decrease in soda sales within city limits was more than made up for by a large increase in soda sales in stores within two miles outside Philly. And the expected gusher of revenue didn’t quite materialize either, as receipts fell about 15 percent short of projections. “In summary, the tax does not lead to a shift in consumption towards healthier products, it affects low income households more severely, and it is limited in its ability to raise revenue,” the study said.

Five dollars to the first person who spots a 'public health' lobbyist citing this study.

Monday, 14 January 2019

So-called junk food consultation

The UK's banny state government has yielded to the Jamie Oliver/Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/Action on Sugar axis of evil and proposed a clampdown on so-called junk food. It now has a legal obligation to put its harebrained schemes to a public consultation.

There is no legal definition of 'junk food'. The nearest approximation is High in Fat, Sugar or Salt, but this is a very broad category. The government doesn't seem to care about consumers losing out from a ban on buy-one-get-one-free deals (BOGOFs) and free soft drink refills.

It also wants to tell shopkeepers where they can and can't position their products. There is no end to their meddling.

Join me in telling them to BOGOF here.

Friday, 11 January 2019

The facts about sugar

More or Less, the BBC's much needed fact-checking show, began its new series today with a look at sugar consumption. I urge you to listen to it.

Last week Public Health England told us that British children have eaten 18 years' worth of sugar by the time they are 10. This claim and others like them, such as the claim that kids have eaten their annual allotment of sugar by June, is the result of Public Health England halving the sugar guidelines in 2015. It is not because sugar consumption has been rising.

I was interviewed for the show and explained that sugar consumption has been falling for many years and that the guidelines were halved for no good reason. More or Less took a look at the figures and agreed with me but that is not why I want you to listen to it.

I want you to listen to it for the interview with Public Health England's Louis Levy who thought he could bluff his way through by asserting falsehoods with confidence. He flat out denied that sugar consumption has fallen at all, he made claims about the health effects of sugar that are not borne out by the evidence and - having been challenged by the facts - ultimately resorted to repeating the claim that people are eating twice as much sugar as the guidelines recommend.

Which, of course, is a circular argument. The fact remains that nobody has ever been able to explain what harm will come to you if you consume 10% of your calories from sugar, as opposed to the 5% now recommended, so long as you do not exceed the daily calorie guideline. There is no convincing answer to this question because the risk doesn't exist. The goalposts were moved to create the illusion of a worsening problem. It was, in effect, a political decision.