Film Review: Will Sugar Bankrupt Healthcare?
Three documentaries point to sugar as the great destroyer
With apologies to Pogo, we have met the enemy and it is sugar.
That message may now be playing in a theater near you, so consider skipping the super size drink at the concession stand.
Here’s the trailer: Sugar — not dietary fat, not cholesterol, not sodium, not red meat, not carbohydrates — that is the fundamental threat to good health in this country. It drives obesity, which promotes type 2 diabetes, which leads to heart disease. Oh, and yes, there is always tooth decay.
Yet, for more than four decades now, almost the entire nutritional community has been focused on dietary fat. Nutrition fell prey to the vices of politics and popularity, and it is only now barely starting to recover.
This isn’t just a minor problem requiring a small course correction. It is a scandal, and the whole field must be overturned.
That, at least, is how some people see nutritional science. It’s a view that was recently propagated in two films: That Sugar Film, from Australia, and Sugar Coated, from Canada. In a third film — sugar is clearly having its day in the spotlight as the culprit in a whole host of chronic diseases — titled Sugar Rush, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver shows the toll sugar is taking in Great Britain and urges the country to adopt a sugar tax and use the proceeds for health education.
Of the three movies, That Sugar Film is most entertaining. It is the lightest on the science, but it’s also the funnest and most watchable. Its strength is visual: It is one thing to hear that the average child in the U.S. eats about 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, but it’s stunning to see on the screen just how much sugar that actually is.
Hell Hath No Fury Like Industry Scorned
Nonetheless, the data are piling up, and it increasingly looks like critics of sugar got it right.
There are signs that the critics of sugar may soon be moving from contrarian to mainline status: the upcoming U.S. Dietary Guidelines are expected to take a much harsher stand against added sugars. It appears that the medical establishment is no longer standing naked in Times Square.
From here, it looks as if the contrarian view made sense all along, and we should laud the writers and the researchers that warned us long ago. But to think that way is to forget what a difficult fight against sugar it has been, and in some ways still is. And it is also to forget that the early scientists that fought for their viewpoint were often viewed as crackpots, were personally smeared, and their research was discounted.
In this sense, the films are a good reminder that science is a thoroughly human endeavor.
To do science is to do politics. And politics, like nutrition, is messy.