Sweet Rotten Public Health

The political institutions that govern our lives are rotten to the core. The same is true for the teeth of Leicester’s children, with a recent report revealing that “more than half of all five-year-olds in Leicester have tooth decay — the highest rate in all England” (September 7, Leicester Mercury).

Corporate sugar barons profit from the demise of our pearlies, while corporate-friendly politicians work tooth and nail to ensure that oversight of the industry is devoid of regulatory teeth.

Recognizing the importance of influencing food policy, sugar corporations have always ensured that their corrosive presence was keenly felt, as they certainly did in 1979 when a committee was established to formulate Britain’s first national dietary guidelines.

Under the guidance of Professor Philip James, this pioneering committee established a clear relationship between sugar, diabetes, tooth decay and obesity… but none to surprisingly the sugar giants sitting on the committee objected.

Working through the misnamed sugar-industry funded British Nutrition Foundation, the sugar barons took a leaf out of the tobacco industry’s tried and tested rule-book of misinformation.

As Professor James recalled, the formula for sugar lobbies success was simple. “Confuse the public. Produce experts who disagree. Try to dilute the message. [And] Indicate there are extremists like me in the field of public health”.

Today the food industry evidently still has politicians eating out of their sweet lucre-lined pockets. Iain Ferguson, who until recently was the CEO of Tate & Lyle, is a director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and an Honorary Vice President of the British Nutrition Foundation.

Or take the chair of the British Nutrition Foundation, who also serves at the helm of the Assured Food Standards, the organisation ‘trusted’ to promote clearer labelling. The chairman is David Gregory, a powerful individual who is also a board member of Two Sisters Food Group.

This exploitative food giant is best remembered locally because of the valiant resistance their workforce provided in 2012 when Two Sisters closed down a factory in South Wigston in the most disgusting fashion.

Clearly we need tough and effective regulation of the food industry as their only interest is profits, and selling us a seemingly limitless array of high-calorie, addictively-sweet, nutrient-poor foods.

But remember it is not just our children’s health which is at stake. A new study looking into tooth loss and mortality revealed that the number of teeth we have is significantly correlated to our life expectancy. As Nigel Carter OBE, the Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation said:

“Oral health indicators such as gum disease have regularly been linked to a wide range of general health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia and problems during pregnancy.”

Something must be done, but who is going to do it?

This letter was email to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 15th September.

In June Jeremy Corbyn supported Keith Vaz’s early day motion which commended the makers of That Sugar Film (2014). But while Vaz has never shown any real interest in seriously regulating corporations, or taking them into public ownership (or reversing the ongoing privatisation of the NHS) Corbyn has done, so it is convenient that he is the new leader of the Labour Party.


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