Sweet blandishments of the sugar industry… and a guest struck by lightning…

OUR latest Airbnb guest takes two sugars in his coffee and once was struck by lightning. One of these facts is perhaps more unusual than the other.

It is always a surprise when someone wants sugar in their tea or coffee. At breakfast yesterday he took a sip and winced. “I’ll have some sugar in that please, mate. Two teaspoons,” said the Australian, adding that he wished he could shake the habit.

We go without the sugar in this house, at least in drinks, but we still take the sweet stuff in other ways, the occasional cake perhaps or marmalade on buttered toast at the weekend (heaven on a breakfast plate for me after a five-day sentence of porridge).

The radio was on as I made breakfast and the sugar lobby was peddling a line stickier than their conscience in response to the Department of Health’s long-awaited childhood obesity strategy. This initiative contains some useful suggestions, but could perhaps be summed up as the blandishments of sweet nothings.

Prime Minister Theresa May put so much faith in her new policy that she let it be released while she was away walking in Switzerland, having allowed one uncomfortable-looking official prime ministerial holiday snap of her and her husband with their hiking sticks.

At least we no longer have to suffer David Cameron looking pinkly satisfied in Cornwall; and the good news for him is that he no longer has to pretend that he loves going to cloudy Cornwall, but can instead bugger off to wherever his sunny money will take him.

Anyway, sugar. Despite widespread shock and disappointment about the childhood obesity strategy, the human sugar cubes from the food industry were in place to speak the nonsense that pays their wages.

The policy was widely dismissed by leading retailers and even the boss of Sainsbury’s. Yet Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, insisted the soft drinks tax was a “disappointing diversion from effective measures to tackle obesity”. He added that the 20 per cent reduction in the sugar contained in yoghurts, desserts and pasta sauces “focuses too strongly on the role of this single nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient”.

I am not the first person to notice the striking similarities between such doublespeak and the way the tobacco apologists used to deny the links between smoking and cancer. The sugar lobby will no doubt keep saying these things until our children are too fat to stand and their teeth have all fallen out.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents grocers, said it would have been better if the government had imposed mandatory cuts to sugar levels in food, as leaving it to voluntary action by manufacturers would allow some producers to take advantage by keeping the sugar levels high in their products.

Public Health England had advised that two measures would have had the greatest impact on childhood obesity: stopping price-cutting promotions of junk food in supermarkets; and limiting advertising of unhealthy food to children through television and social media.

Both are sensible suggestions. Cut-price promotions of junk food in particular can trap parents, especially the low-paid, leaving it more likely that poorer children will end up the most overweight. In a sugar-coated nutshell: poor quality food costs much less than decent food.

Neither of these two ideas appears in the strategy announced yesterday, suggesting that Mrs May has briskly swatted away any attempts to control the way the food industry operates.

Let them eat cake and crisps too, then show them on the television news running around and getting red in the face. Children were shown doing just that last night on the BBC news, and while exercise is undoubtedly beneficial, a bit of running around at a summer holiday club won’t be enough to undo the damage done by too much food shot through with sugar.

Our guest hasn’t come downstairs yet, but I have the sugar bowl at the ready. And that lightning? Oh, he was working at a mine in Queensland when a sudden electrostatic discharge hit the ground as he touched his car in the car park. The shock was so great he thought he’d broken his arm. He survived but eventually had to give up work. But not sugar.

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