The beverage industry has hit out at chef Jamie Oliver’s new television show, Jamie’s Sugar Rush, called it ‘misleading’ and ‘misguided’.
The program, which airs on Channel 10 on Sunday night, investigates sugar’s contribution to global health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, the quantity of sugar in everyday foods and what is being done to help.
Oliver is also calling for a 7 pence (around 15 cents) tax to be placed on all sugary soft drinks in the United Kingdom, which could potentially raise a £1 billion ($2.1 billion) to fund nutrition education programs.
CEO of Beverages Australia, Geoff Parker, told The Huffington Post Australia that Oliver’s show was little more than a celebrity stunt.
“There is no doubt that Australia has a problem with obesity, but the majority of people want and need better education around nutrition. It [Jamie's Sugar Rush] is a misguided form of education and it singles out a really small part of why people put on weight,” he said.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 63 percent of Australians are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk of developing lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Obesity related illnesses are currently the leading cause of death in Australia.
The sugar debate has raged over the past few years, with journalist Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar movement encouraging people to ditch refined sugars, chef ‘Paleo Pete’ Evans’ caveman inspired diet which restricts sugar, alcohol, caffeine and grains, and Damon Gameau’s That Sugar Film showing us the reality of obession with the sweet stuff.
However, many nutritionists are calling for an end to the sugar ‘hysteria’.
Nutritionist and Dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan told HuffPost Australia last week sugar isn’t entirely to blame when it comes to our obesity epidemic, but did call out soft drink as something we should be avoiding.
“Highly refined carbohydrates like cakes, biscuits, lollies and soft drink, what dietitians call ‘discretionary’ foods, are the major problem,” she said.
Parker also highlighted research from Beverages Australia which indicated people are consuming less sugary soft drinks in favour of diet beverages with artificial sweeteners.
“In Australia, only 1.8 per cent of the daily intake of kilojoules comes from soft drinks and the amount of sugar consumed through soft drinks has in fact dropped while obesity continues to rise,” he said.
However, Sydney based dentist and health writer Dr Steven Lin told HuffPost Australia that the chemicals found in diet soft drinks are even more concerning than sugar.
"Aspartame [an artificial sweetener] has been shown to alter gut microbes which may be how they increase the risk of obesity and metabolic disease. This is likely similar to the effect of sugar on mouth microbes which in turn causes tooth decay," he said.
"It certainly doesn’t make sense to replace something we know does significant harm to our health with something that has similar or even worse outcomes to our health."
Parker also criticised Oliver’s petition for a soft drink tax, saying that a tax on soft drinks oversimplifies consumer behaviour.
“If soft drink prices were increased, there is no compelling evidence to show this would reduce obesity rates in Australia,” he said.
However, Oliver's petition to tax sugary drinks is not wholly focussed on deterring people from purchasing soft drinks, but rather utilising the funds to support nutritional programs and education.
“It's essentially 7 pence on a can of sugary, sweetened drink to potentially raise a billion pounds to get invested into the NHS and into schools and nurseries around the country” he said in a video on his website.
Jamie Oliver is reported to have placed a 10p 'tax' on sugary beverages at his restaurants as a form of protest, after the British government failed to introduce one.
Dr Lin also said that programs like Jamie's are a step in the right direction.
"With research showing a sugar tax may not be in itself the best approach to curbing consumption/obesity in society (when comparing it to alcohol/tobacco taxers), Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush campaign is part of a society wide conversation we need to be having about the modern diet," he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Dr Lin said films like Jamie's do more harm than good. It should have been the opposite. The piece has been updated to reflect that change.