In a recent column, Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning pushes back against a public health brochure on sugar, calling it “a big flop” because apparently a number of people emailed complaints to the venerable columnist.
“How much did this fancy brochure cost?” they want to know. “Who’s paying for this stuff?” asks another.
There is somehow an impression in the world that brochures are expensive, that something colorful is more expensive. The reality is we are not talking about a lot of money. In 2010, the Vanguard printed and mailed about 10,000 brochures on fire department issues to local residents.
Talk about fancy and colorful. Total cost, less than $5000 to print and mail the things. If the Vanguard can afford to do something like that, let alone back in 2010 when we were really on a shoestring, a statewide public health organization should have no problem flipping that bill.
Besides, the complaint about money is misplaced here. San Francisco and Berkeley’s soda tax measures drew between $15 and $20 million from the beverage industry. That’s a lot of flier and BART station billboards (see here, scroll down to the photos). The public health organizations are outgunned in this fight – Mr. Dunning is barking at the mouse and ignoring the elephant.
The biggest problem, however, is this: “Can’t they just leave us alone and let us raise our kids the best way we see fit?”
Back in December, Mayor Pro Tem Davis said, “Each generation has its public health challenges. My generation it was cigarettes and a tax on cigarettes was going to destroy small businesses – it hasn’t and we’re healthier.”
He said, while sugar is everywhere, “what we have in a sugary beverage is we have a delivery system… it’s almost like a cigarette in terms of what it gets, it gets sugar to your pancreas in a hurry.”
Mayor Pro Tem Davis added, “It is causing the public health crisis of this generation. That is our crisis, there is no other. Some people are living with it, some of you are going to die from it, or your kids are.”
Does Mr. Dunning also believe that laws aimed at cigarettes in public places are (or were) paternalistic?
There is a lack of acknowledgement that we have a public health crisis. The Sacramento Bee recently had an article on the obesity rate in local communities. The good news is that Davis, not surprisingly, is healthier than most. But still, one in four of our kids are overweight and/or obese and face an increased risk of diabetes. Neighboring communities are not so “fortunate,” as their obesity rates are skyrocketing up over 40 percent.
A UCLA study, reported on in the Sacramento Bee last August, found that more than a quarter of California adults are obese, with a higher rate of 31 percent in the Sacramento region.
The Bee noted, “More than 1,180 households were surveyed in Sacramento County. The center, which launched its study in 2001, calls it the most comprehensive statewide health survey in the country, reaching people in all 58 counties.”
They conducted interviews in seven different languages, and 20 percent of the interviews were done with cellphone-only households.
They found, “For the first time, more than one in four California adults are considered obese – in 2014, about 27 percent, compared to 19 percent in 2001.” And, “About 31 percent of adults surveyed in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties were obese last year, compared to 20 percent of adults in 2001.”
Worse yet, public health officials believe that, because the data “are self-reported, the actual incidence of statewide obesity could be even higher, given that people tend to overestimate their height and underestimate their weight.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has now put out its 2015-2020 guidelines, published in early January, “which for the first time recommend a clear limit on added sugar of no more than 10 percent of daily calories.”
The alarming part of that is a single sugary soda per day will put many people over that limit.
Kimber Stanhope, an associate research nutritional biologist at UC Davis and a scientist for the SugarScience (an online source about sugar, developed by health scientists from UC San Francisco) research and education initiative had comments on added sugar and beverage recommendations in the University of California news published by the UC Office of the President.
On the recommendation for added sugar: “I’m definitely relieved that the new recommendation is for not exceeding 10 percent of calories. In 2010, when the guidelines’ upper limit on added sugar was left at 25 percent of calories, I was very disappointed and actually surprised. In August 2009, the American Heart Association announced that women should not exceed 100 calories per day of added sugar and men should not exceed 150 calories per day of added sugar. To have one group of experts saying women should not exceed 100 calories of added sugar – that’s less than one can of soda – and the other saying a woman can drink as much as three cans a day, made no sense at all. It was a victory for health that they did reduce it from 25 percent down to 10 percent.”
On the recommendation for beverages: “They are recommending high-nutrient drinks such as non-fat milk and they say we need to be careful with 100 percent juice and full-fat milks. These suggestions make sense. We need a lot more data. Just how much better is fruit juice than soda? Many researchers think they are equally problematic and many researchers think fruit juice is a healthier choice. To the best of my knowledge, there have been only two studies comparing the two.”
Biggest adjustment for consumers: “I think the guideline to eat more whole fruits and vegetables is incredibly important – if everybody would concentrate on that, health would improve immensely. The other big adjustment is making an all-out effort to eliminate as much added sugar as possible – that’s not just from beverages but also from candy and cookies.”
What’s missing: “I think they made changes that are very reasonable based on the knowledge that we have. It would be great if we had better nutrition data.”
Most important takeaway: “Eat more fruits and vegetables and less added sugar.”
Mr. Dunning writes, “Given that the brochure urges us to give our kids milk, maybe there’s a dairy farmer or two behind all this spending. Or, given that sugary ‘fruit’ juice was specifically excluded from the list of evil beverages, maybe there’s a citrus farmer out there who is now downgrading soda pop in his spare time.”
The recommendations are that children should be drinking non-fat milk, and avoiding 100 percent juice and full-fat milk. In addition, there should be warnings on things like soda and Gatorade. The flier’s display of beverages was clearly not intended as an exhaustive list.
That makes sense.
Mr. Dunning writes, “No matter, for judging by the response heading my way, this pushy, paternalistic, holier-than-thou brochure was a monumental flop. To use a popular basketball term, the folks putting it out shot an air ball.”
Maybe Mr. Dunning, instead of cracking jokes, should educate his readers on just how bad the consumption of sugar is and figure out ways for us to reduce the local obesity rate, which is still unacceptably high.
As Robb Davis, himself a public health specialist, put it, this is the public health crisis of our lifetime.
—David M. Greenwald reporting