ABC Four Corners: five articles to get you informed on sugar and Big Sugar’s role in food policy


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The sugar industry has employed various tactics to influence health policy in its favour.
from shutterstock.com

Sasha Petrova, The Conversation

Tonight’s ABC Four Corners program investigates the influence of the sugar industry on global policy efforts to curtail the rise of obesity. This includes the industry’s involvement in thwarting implementation of a sugar tax, and in watering down Australia’s now largely ineffective health star rating system.

Called Tipping the Scales, the program will highlight some of the tactics the industry employs. The ABC reports companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Unilever, Nestle and Kelloggs “have a seat at the table setting the policies that shape consumption of their own sugar-laced products”.

A public health advocate is quoted as saying:

The reality is that industry is, by and large, making most of the policy. Public health is brought in so that we can have the least worse solution.

The Conversation’s experts in health policy and economics have weighed into this debate over the years. Here’s our pick of five analysis pieces that will get you informed before tonight’s program.

1. How industry influences research

The sugar industry hasn’t only had its finger in the policy pie, it has also pulled some strings behind the scenes of scientific research into sugar’s health effects.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2016 revealed that, in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid scientists at Harvard University to minimise the link between sugar and heart disease. The paper’s authors suggested the sugar industry may largely have shaped many of today’s dietary recommendations. And some experts have since questioned whether such misinformation may have led to today’s obesity crisis.

The sugar industry has influenced research in the past.
from shutterstock.com

In an essay on health, the University of Sydney’s Professor Lisa Bero – an internationally renowned expert in the integrity of scientific research and its use in policy-making – has outlined how food companies can sneak bias into scientific research:

She writes:

Pharmaceutical, tobacco or chemical industry funding of research biases human studies towards outcomes favourable to the sponsor…

A 2007 paper that compared over 500 studies found those funded by pharmaceutical companies were half as likely to report negative effects of corticosteroid drugs (used to treat allergies and asthma) as those not funded by pharmaceutical companies.




Read more:
Essays on health: how food companies can sneak bias into scientific research


2. Sugar’s role in health star ratings

The ABC’s Four Corners team interviews the Obesity Policy Coalition’s executive manager, Jane Martin, who is frustrated that industry lobbying has scuttled efforts to make the health star system mandatory.

The health star rating system was introduced in June 2014. It’s a front-of-pack labelling system that rates the nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5 stars. The more stars, the healthier the choice.

As Deakin University’s public health and nutrition professor, Mark Lawrence, and Curtin University’s public health research fellow, Christina Pollard, explained:

The system is supposed to help consumers discriminate between similar foods within the same food category that contain different amounts of undesirable ingredients. It should, for instance, help compare two loaves of bread in terms of their salt content …

Writing a year after the rating system’s implementation, the authors note the flaws in the policy. The main flaw is its voluntary nature, which can lead to manufacturers putting labels on only those foods that will get a high rating:

While manufacturers might be happy to display stars on foods that attract between two and five stars, they are less likely to put one or half a star on their products.




Read more:
A year on, Australia’s health star food-rating system is showing cracks


3. How a sugar tax would benefit health

Since Mexico introduced a sugar tax in 2014, nearly 30 countries have gone on to do the same. Last month the UK introduced a levy that manufacturers must pay for their high-sugar products.

More than 20 countries have taxed sugary drinks.
from shutterstock.com

Companies will have to pay 18 pence per litre on drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100g. Drinks with more than 8g per 100ml will face a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre.

But the ABC reports efforts to introduce such a policy in Australia have failed, due to the lobbying efforts of the Beverages Council.

The evidence for sugar’s negative effects on our health is well known. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE in April 2016 showed a tax on sugary drinks in Australia would prevent 4,000 heart attacks and 1,100 strokes.

The researchers examined the potential impact of a 20% rise in the prices of sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters on health, healthcare expenditure and revenue.

Writing for The Conversation, the study’s authors note:

As expected, the tax would result in people decreasing their consumption of sugary drinks. The influence of a price increase would be greatest on those who drink a lot of sugary drinks, so the greatest impact would be on younger age groups. This is an important result that is difficult to achieve through other obesity-prevention measures.




Read more:
Australian sugary drinks tax could prevent thousands of heart attacks and strokes and save 1,600 lives


4. How a sugar tax would save us money

The UK’s Treasury is estimating the sugar tax will raise £240 million per year. Modelling done in Australia by the Grattan Institute shows that a tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar could raise about A$400-$500 million per year.

The Institute’s Stephen Duckett and Trent Wiltshire write that the sugar industry’s concerns over the tax are overblown. They say:

A sugar-sweetened beverages tax will reduce domestic demand for Australian sugar by around 50,000 tonnes, which is only about 1% of all the sugar produced in Australia. And, while there may be some transition costs, this sugar could instead be sold overseas (as 80% of Australia’s sugar production already is).




Read more:
A sugary drinks tax could recoup some of the costs of obesity while preventing it


5. How bad is sugar, really?

And finally, if you’re wondering how much sugar you can eat to stay healthy, here’s an article written by Flinders University nutrition lecturers Kacie Dickinson and Louise Matwiejczyk that explains exactly that.

In brief:

If you’re an average-sized adult eating and drinking enough to maintain a healthy body weight (roughly 8,700 kilojoules per day), 10% of your total energy intake from free sugar roughly translates to no more than 54 grams, or around 12 teaspoons, per day.

A 600ml bottle of Coke contains more than 14 teaspoons of sugar.


The Conversation


Read more:
Health Check: how much sugar is it OK to eat?


Sasha Petrova, Deputy Editor: Health + Medicine, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Turnbull’s government must accept responsibility for delivering an equitable NBN for all Australians



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NBN delivery is variable across different states, but also within the same local council areas.
from www.shutterstock.com

Tooran Alizadeh, University of Sydney

On Monday night Four Corners asked Australia to consider “What’s wrong with the NBN?”.

Prior to the episode airing, a lot of the debate focused on the NBN’s business model, and that it may not be profitable.

I, however, am not sure if the financial returns need be our biggest concern when referring to public service and critical infrastructure. My answer to the question “what’s wrong with the NBN?” is quite simple: the NBN is inequitable.


Read more: The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


A “train wreck”

This week started with a fiery speech delivered by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. He said the NBN was a mistake, blamed the former Labor government for the set up, and described the NBN’s business model as a “calamitous train wreck”.

Turnbull’s remarks triggered a number of responses, including one from former Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He attached responsibility of NBN’s failure to the current government, as they “changed the model completely” compared to the original design.

More broadly, the Four Corners program itself created mixed reactions on social media. It was criticised for being “weak”, and not “challenging enough”, but also praised as “exceptional”.

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I find it incredibly frustrating to see a national critical infrastructure project diminished to political ping pong. In my opinion, bipartisan commitment is required in order to deliver an equitable NBN for all Australians.

Inequity from the start

Introduced by Labor, the original NBN was announced in April 2009. The plan was to provide terrestrial fibre network coverage for 93% of Australian premises by the end of 2020, with the remaining 7% served by fixed wireless and satellite coverage. In other words, Labor’s NBN was mainly equitable in terms of the advanced technology adopted across the board.


Read more: Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


However, research on the early NBN rollout pointed out the issue of timing. Even under the most optimistic estimations, it was going to take over a decade to build the nation-wide infrastructure. So, there were always questions about who was going to get the infrastructure first, and who had to wait over a decade for a similar service.

The results of the 2013 Federal election changed the fate of the NBN. The elected Coalition government decided the NBN rollout should transition from a primarily fibre-to-premises model to a mixed-technology model.



Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

FTTP = fibre to the premises; FTTN/FFTB = fibre to the node/basement;
HFC = Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial


This added to the complexity of the NBN, and created new layers in the inequality concerns around the NBN. In the Coalition’s NBN, many could be waiting quite some years and yet still only receive a lower quality level of access to the service.

Inequity in 2017

Now we’re past the halfway point of NBN delivery, and inequality of the service is clear at two levels.

Large scale

Recent research shows there is a clear digital divide between urban versus regional Australia in terms of access to the NBN. Regional Australia is missing out, both in terms of pace and quality of delivery in the mixed-technology model. This pretty much means that WA and NT are the worst off parts of the nation, because of the spread and dominance of regional and remote communities within them.

“Fine grain” scale

As described on Four Corners, mixed-technology NBN within local government areas and neighbourhoods means some people are better off than others.

Some receive fibre-to-premises service while others have fibre-to-node. The quality of the service also depends on how far someone lives and works from a node, which basically suggests even people on the same fibre-to-nodes service could have varied level of (dis)satisfaction with their internet and phone services.

Research published in 2015 captured some of the frustrations on the ground at the local government level. Differing qualities of internet services available were perceived to have direct implications for local economic development, productivity, and sense of community at the local level.

The two layers of NBN inequality mean that while some customers may be happy with their NBN, many experience a frustrating downgrade of service after moving to the NBN. This may help explain the increase in the number of NBN complaints across the nation.


Read more: Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide


Let’s start moving forwards

Politicising the NBN and blaming one party over another has been part of the national misfortune around the NBN. But, I believe, the inequality of the NBN is part of a bigger trend in infrastructure decision making in Australia that fails to fully account for the socioeconomic implications. Other examples of this trend are seen in major (controversial) transport projects around the nation (e.g. East West Link in Melbourne, WestConnex in Sydney).

Current and future Australian governments must accept responsibility, and find a way forward for the NBN that is built on the notion of equitable service.

We can start with questions such as who needs the service the most, and who can do the most with it. These two questions refer to the social inclusion and productivity implications of the NBN.

The ConversationThe NBN, as a publicly funded national infrastructure project, has to be equitable to be a truly nation building platform. As long as it is failing some, it is failing us all as a nation.

Tooran Alizadeh, Senior Lecturer, Director of Urban Design, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.