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The Sunday Times Magazine


our war on sugar The Government Want to Announce Tax Inflation on Sugary Foods to Help Prevent a Rise in Obesity Rates: Here’s Why the Futile Idea May Only Reduce the Weight of Wallets. The Sunday Times Magazine



The Sunday Times Magazine


wenty-first century Britain has developed a compulsion towards the easy life of giving in to the thousands of temptingly cheap fast-food outlets that are scattered across our cities like an advanced dot-to-dot puzzle. Of course the discussion of fast food will always produce a clashing set of opinions, however while one side may refuse to dabble in the popular culture at all, the rest of the nation are still blissfully ignoring the damaging consequences from eating too much of the ‘bad stuff’. As we well know, there is always a

great threat to the public health that we should supposedly avoid eating. First it was saturated fat, then there were cholesterol concerns caused by salt, and now our attention has turned towards sugar. Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies has come forward with the unpopular idea of slapping tax inflation on sugary foods. Many of us would agree that this is an inexcusable attempt at tackling the obesity crisis. Yes sugar is partly responsible for Britain’s obesity epidemic, but so are game consoles, super-size meals and poor education in nutrition.

Left: Six teaspoons of sugar in a can of coke. Below: 38 teaspoons of sugar in a whole bottle of Tomato Ketchup.

Tobacco and alcohol have taken a beating on tax inflation yet still cause thousands of deaths every year according to 2013 statistics. It seems unrealistic to think that the obesity death tolls will suddenly shrink just because experts want to introduce a 20% tax on sugary goods. While the cigarettes and vodka that exist at a higher expense continue to kill people, we can at least agree that the awareness of their dangers has increased. The introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 turned out to be a


bigger success than increasing the price of the cigs. In 2010, the NHS released a statement that confirmed hospital admissions linked to heart attacks had dropped dramatically since the smoking ban. Truthfully, it seems that the government’s logic behind the sugar tax lunacy is most likely to be the vision of more dosh. Taking full advantage of Britain’s recession is not the answer to our muffin-top prayers.


ome of us would agree that a tax on sugary goods to brainwash our nation is The Sunday Times Magazine


a naïve assumption from the experts. Sugar addicted Britain simply will not end the decision of buying processed foods, to then automatically switch and suddenly embrace the fresh greenery down the veg aisles. It seems that Sally Davies assumes this particular method of forcing the nation to pay more will work the same as flicking a switch. Realistically all that will really happen is that the poorer families who buy ready meals and processed foods – because of the low cost – will have to cough up more for the very food that is damaging their health. The solution that the

Left: 20 teaspoons of sugar in a cartoon of Innocent smoothie. Right: 21 teaspoons of sugar in a whole pineapple.


The Sunday Times Magazine

government should be pumping time and effort into is education. They need to educate, inform and raise awareness; not penalise. Experienced dietician of 33 years, Mary O’Kane, believes that if the government insists on a sugar tax then it’s important for them to also consider “subsidising fruit and vegetables”. The existing five-a-day recommendation is a challenge for many Britons, especially with the price of most produce. If the government make it easier for people to buy fresh ingredients then they wouldn’t necessarily need to make it harder for families to buy chicken dippers.

FAST FOOD NATION is acceptable? The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that we should now only consume up to 25g of sugar a day. That’s just six teaspoons. The majority of our population don’t think twice about calculating nutrition guidelines, and so all these hidden sugars seem out of sight out of mind. What’s even more alarming and confusing for those who do watch out for the sugar content, is that sugar has 12 alter egos when printed amongst the ingredients on food labelling.


o not only is it hiding in your food, it’s being disguised as ingredients you wouldn’t


Let’s lay down the facts: nicotine is addictive and smoking causes cancer. Sugar is addictive, and eating too much of it will lead to diabetes and obesity. Fatal consequences all round. Not only is sugar addictive, but too much will make you fat, rot your teeth and send your seven-yearold bouncing of the walls. The truth about sugar is far from acknowledged for many of us, as the food manufactures pour more unnecessary sugar in an average weekly shop than ever imagined. The actual quantity of hidden sugar is the fundamental crisis that warrants a great deal of attention. So how much sugar

The Sunday Times Magazine


assume is sugar. It’s everywhere and we can’t escape it. Even the amateur health fanatics are being tricked thanks to ‘low fat’ labelling. Those foods that appear to be the healthier option such as a skinny blueberry muffin from Starbucks are a prime example of how the food industry enjoys shattering a woman’s diet regime. In order for the little plump treats to still taste so delicious without the existence of fat, the manufacturers have to replace the fat with sugar. So unfortunately those sly ‘lighter’ blueberry muffins hide 34.7gs of sugar. That’s over eight teaspoons.


f course we’re consciously familiar with the obvious culprits that contain extensive amounts of sugar. The ones we’re warned not to eat too much of; the drinks and snacks we occasionally allow ourselves to indulge in. The tasty little thrills. Fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, alcoholic pickme-ups, the odd digestive to dunk in your coffee, and even the less offensive pleasures like a splodge of ketchup in your bacon sarnie. Even having a can of coke seems like a completely guilt free pleasure. However around seven disguised


Lunchtime observation:

Male Caucasian builder, dirty overalls hi vis jacket who for a Wednesday afternoon appears overly satisfied spending lunch break under the Golden Arches. Carelessly slouched on a high stool one hand turns a copy of The Sun whilst the other clutches a chaotic looking burger dripping a fluorescent orange gloop. Builder chews & swallows, doubtful he tastes while paying interest to the black and white print. Builder is bordering on bald, patchy hair is speckled with grey. Builders’ disproportionate backside hangs off the sides of the stool. Wiping the gloop from his facae with his stubby fingers, he picks up his iPhone 5. Scrolling through his phone, another mouthful of greasy wet burger caged in a bun is engrossed by the cave that is the builders’ mouth.


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teaspoons are swimming freely in a full fat can of coke. It seems ludicrous to think that little red can contains more sugar than the daily recommended allowance. Announcing tax on food and drinks high in sugar isn’t going to suddenly put a stop to cravings. Sugar is addictive and any sweet little edibles are still going to be purchased even after 20% inflation. It’s the actual amount of sugar found in these foods that needs reducing, and it’s down to the government to enforce this on the food manufactures and the fast-food industry to do us all a favour.

Tell your children if they eat too much indulgent food it will lead to amputation of limbs


The Sunday Times Magazine



The Sunday Times Magazine


childhood obesity is neglect


besity rates have been on a steep increase over the past eight years and the fast food industry is blissfully taking a back seat, hiding behind thick guilt. A medium ‘Quarter Pounder’ meal and coke from McDonalds contains 44g of fat and 62g of sugar. That’s over 60% of a man’s recommended daily fat intake and more than 14 teaspoons of sugar. It’s no good wagging fingers and telling people how much sugar is acceptable. It just will not work. Most people don’t even count calorie intake, so what makes them assume that everyone is going to start calculating grams of little grains?

While we know that eating too much sugar is harmful and will eventually be held responsible for your respiratory problems, heart disease or diabetes: it’s important to remember that there are other factors involved towards the development of the obesity epidemic. The increasing amount of sugar that Britain is unknowingly consuming is just one of the current underlying problems. The National Obesity Forum’s Tam Fry, expresses his beliefs on how a sugar tax is not what Britain is in need of to fight obesity, “The government need to ensure that the food and

The Sunday Times Magazine


beverage industry is reformulated to contain less fat, salt and sugar as these are the main contributors that lead to obesity”. However, simply removing the excess sugar from food and drink would be similar to taking candy from a baby. Although it could be interesting to see the result of suddenly eliminating sugar from processed foods – the only mums going to Iceland would be those with diabetes. The removal or reduction of sugar content needs to be a slow process so that the addicts won’t notice. As like many addictions - cold turkey would not suffice. The past ten years has seen the salt content of supermarket products come down between 25%-40%. Even Kellogg’s Cornflakes now contain a whopping 60% less salt than they used to. Clearly a slow decline in the amount of added sugar is what the government

need to arrange. Anyone that enjoys a daily chocolate bar for their lunchtime sugar fix doesn’t think twice about having to pay an extra 10p for a Snickers. The most that inflation might do will only make the nation insignificantly poorer. There are no lessons being taught. Bring in the brutalities of too much indulgent food. Show the reality of processed foods. Show them distressing images of cardiovascular disease and heart failure.


f there is a sudden tax on sugar-fuelled beverages, it’s only going to make the nation’s wallets lighter, not the average BMI. Just because the price has been raised, doesn’t stop folk acquiring the goods. Practitioner dietician, Rachael Gardner from Leeds Community Healthcare service, agrees that

increasing the price of food high in sugar will not solve the fundamental issue. “I believe in educating the population about eating a balanced diet and its health benefits would be the most valuable method”. Rachael also facilitates a group programme around the Leeds area called “Weigh Ahead”, which runs on an 8-week basis and covers several topics including portion sizes, physical activity and food labelling. “Educating people through this programme will increase the populations’ knowledge and provide tools for them to take home and start making healthy changes”, says Rachael. It needs to be widely understood that the process of tackling the problem is going to be time-consuming. The obesity epidemic isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. Our crisis requires a huge amount of effort

13:42 Directly opposite the back wall, sits a victim who fell for peculiar myth that McDonald’s can be healthy. The serene old man takes on the appearance of a former mafia member; slicked back dark grey hair, wrinkly olive skin with one hand weighed down by a rather tremendous gold ring on his middle finger. Next to him rests a discarded plastic salad container. It’s a shame


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that he probably assumes he’s had a nutritional lunch. 5g’s of sugar hide in those salads. Since when does sugar go in salads? Lesson one; if you’re thinking of being healthy, play by the rules. Avoid the golden arches entirely. If your lack of will power drags you there anyway, don’t order a salad – face the guilt and order a burger. You wouldn’t go to a brothel for a hug.


not only from the government, but also the food manufacturers, parents, teachers and schools. The sheer abundance of ‘restaurants’ that provides Britain’s mouths with easy accessible, cheap, processed food is another aspect that the government seem to be neglecting. The exposure of far too many fast food outlets is becoming more and more of an ignored crisis, as there are now roughly 1115 McDonald’s eateries in the UK. If the NHS is disputing that the childhood obesity rates are on the increase then the government should also at least re-consider the location of all these outlets. Dietician Mary O’Kane agrees that there is an increasing concern for the profusion of fast food outlets being situated near or around schools. You can’t expect

The Sunday Times Magazine


rebellious secondary school kids to pass by the glowing golden arches while their soggy sandwich suffocating in Clingfilm waits in their rucksack. It’s a matter of removing temptation, especially for those children who don’t necessarily understand the repercussions of eating foods that they deem as delicious and moreish.


ry is also a strong believer of educating children. However his attitude towards it is much more compelling. The wellrespected spokesman believes that parents should be taking full


responsibility and that “childhood obesity is simply neglect”. The interview with him revealed that parents should not only take the positives of healthy eating and explain them to children, but also explain the consequences of eating badly. “Tell your children the facts and be brutal, tell them if they eat too much indulgent food it will lead to blindness and amputation of limbs”. Former McDonald’s worker, Jack Noden strongly agrees with the hardhitting words from Mr.Fry, who admits that if parents allow their children to consume McDonalds on a more than rare occasion

then these “parents are essentially forcing their children to become overweight, unhealthy, unhappy and prone to health problems”.


f course there are parents out there who don’t necessarily care about healthy eating, who are happy to stick with feeding the developing brains of their children with greasy pizza and freezer food packed with preservatives - however this kind of attitude unfortunately gets passed down the generations. If physical education is a compulsory subject in schools,


parents are forcing their children to become unhealthy and unhappy

13:55 The fast food giants claim “There’s a McDonald’s for everyone”, and to a certain extent, this statement is sadly true. Although some people take full pride in dining in, others

make a quick dash for the door, making no sound other than the rustle of warm brown paper bag. False advertisement tricks even the sharpest tool in the box. That

delusional thought that triggers the possibility of ordering a salad when you’re trying to be “good”, is tragically normal for some.



The Sunday Times Magazine

FAST FOOD NATION then teach them about nutrition. Most children wouldn’t care if you told them that a meal from McDonalds at lunchtime is equivalent to their entire daily calorie intake – but that’s primarily down to the lack of education. A positive change in obesity rates may be destined once schools are made to drill the reality of unhealthy choices into the education system. This will allow all children – even the kids with easy solution chicken dipper parents - to be given the opportunity to learn properly about healthy eating and the damaging effects of an unbalanced diet. With the WHO shouting about the recommended sugar consumption clamp down, experts are also declaring that the fine white granules are as bad for our health as tobacco. If they want to scare us with using sugar and tobacco in the same horrifying sentence then they ought to start treating them the same. If inhaling your way to cancer is the same as eating your way to cardiovascular disease then where are the effective warnings? The design of cigarette and tobacco packaging has been invaded by grotesquely graphic images for the past six

13:59 Visibly overweight man sits with his back facing the restaurant. Occasionally you’ll get a quick glimpse of his side profile as he tilts back his head to throw in handfuls of chips. Does he know how many teaspoons of sugar lurk in his Big Mac? How much would he acknowledge the server if the sugar content was revealed as the dismal brown tray was passed over the till? “Two teaspoons”. Former McDonald’s employee, Jack Noden, who worked there for just over a year thinks it’s unjust to blame McDonalds single-handedly for the rise in obesity levels. Yet interestingly he admits that McDonald’s products are “full of saturated fat, salt and sugar”. It’s grotesque really, that occasionally in our lifetime we seem to think the guilty pleasure of humouring ourselves with fast food is harmless. That quick excursion to Ronald’s world during the school holidays to keep the grandkids at peace. The inevitable service stop after catching a glimpse of the road sign that warns ‘Tiredness can kill, take a break’. The hasty 15-minute escape from a hectic office atmosphere, to gorge through thin yellow deep fat fried sticks of potato, in between thrusting some form of meat incarcerated in a seeded bun into our mouths. Thank you, America. The Sunday Times Magazine




The Sunday Times Magazine


FAST FOOD NATION years, and although these kinds of images don’t commonly faze the more advanced smokers, they sure terrorise most kids. Not to mention the hard-hitting message that they carry.


hile the contradictory proposal of sugar being as bad as tobacco is something that health experts are claiming to be false, the idea of treating sugar like tobacco by making it harder to consume seems worthy. The government made it tougher to smoke and certainly raised awareness with the smoking ban, and the introduction of products being hidden behind cabinets. Anyone would agree

that graphic images on fast food packaging and ready meals would speak louder than inflation. Admittedly, while distressing images of cardiovascular disease printed on your microwaveable lasagne may not stop you in your tracks; it does however have the potential to force you to think about the consequences a little more – definitely more so than the irritation of coughing up a few extra quid. If the government think that Britain need a hard-hitting smack of truth then they need to stop pussyfooting around with lazy attitude and unreasonable inflation threats. If the careless

families that want to continue supporting the financial growth of the ready meal and fast food industry are happy with their diet and lifestyle then let their waists expand. The possibilities of changing Britain’s understanding on nutrition are slim yet reachable with the right methods of intervention. In the grand scheme of things, the path towards a healthier Britain is down to the ability of self-control. We are our own worst enemies and the consistent public health threats will never end. Eat and drink as you please, but for god’s sake; all in moderation  WORDS & IMAGES BY MADELAYNE FOX

14:01 Thankfully, McDonalds’ now provide customers with all the ‘nutrition’ information on the packaging. But no one sits and calculates, and even if you do find the time, it’s too late because you’re already half way through the guiltily satisfying gastronomic journey from hell. Here’s an idea; what if the nutrition labels were replaced with intensely graphic images of how your heart will look

after it’s been suffocated with all that hidden sugar and processed crap. That’ll snatch the attention of wandering eyes far more than a miniscule red thumbnail warning next to an insignificant percentage chart. The golden arches are the ring leaders in our over populated fast food society. The cattle that graze must be a sight that we’ve

all witnessed. Unlucky for the 24hr outlets, the most common characters found are those replenishing salt levels after a boozy night on the town. Thankfully the mid-week afternoon crowd is slightly more tolerable in their presence, certainly not with their table manners.

The Sunday Times Magazine


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