Sensible Public Health or Sugar Shaming?
A new solution for obesity, proposed by Michael Goran and Emily Ventura, is floating through the opinion pages of newspapers all over the world. They say that we should wake up to risks of “secondhand sugars” for infants and young children. If we see a pregnant woman drink a soda, we should worry for the unborn child. Does this pass for sensible public health advocacy?
Explaining their views, they say:
Certain types of sugar – especially fructose and artificial sweeteners, which have dramatically increased in our diet within the last generation – are particularly damaging the during critical periods of growth and development in children.
The evidence to support their claims comes mostly from animal studies and correlations. Those correlations don’t support bold statements about cause and effect.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Clementine Ford rejects the moralizing of Goran and Ventura. She says:
I take exception to the tone of judgement that accompanies the piece. A fetus is already the property of everyone but the person carrying it, and this just contributes to that narrative.
Pregnancy is hard and it’s made much harder by the fact that everybody feels not only entitled to their opinion but also to their input. And that’s before you even consider indicators of other oppressions like poverty, race or disability. It needs to stop. The only people who have the right to discuss any elements of a pregnancy are the person carrying it and their health care providers.
Count us in agreement with Ford. No doubt, excess sugar is a threat to health. But hyperbolic fear mongering is a threat to the credibility of nutrition research. And many more factors contribute to the risk of obesity. Sugar is not the whole story.
Most importantly, people who are concerned about unborn children should pay attention to the big picture. Huge social and economic disparities do great harm to children. And those disparities add to the risk of a poor diet. They add to the risk of obesity.
Earnest work to reduce disparities might do more to help those children than fear mongering about sugar.
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February 6, 2016