Wowsers go to war againt the demon Coca-Cola

2013-04-24 04.49.50 amNICK CATER

Published in The Australian November 5, 2013

FEDERAL Health Minister Peter Dutton remains conspicuously silent on his plans, if indeed he has any, to tackle the scourge of Coca-Cola.

Surely he cannot simply ignore the behaviour of this international sugar-peddling syndicate, for we now have it on the authority of the Obesity Policy Coalition that urgent government action is required.

“A failure to act now,” warn our fat-fighting friends, “will contribute to our growing public health crisis.”

Deniers may mock, but the science on Coca-Cola is in. We now know, thanks to sugar-temperance campaigners, of “a clear link between drinking soft drinks regularly and weight gain”.

It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott’s government will take steps to reduce carbonated beverage consumption. To be honest, his track record on carbon reduction is not exactly sparkling.

Should he fail to act, however, Abbott risks the ignominy of becoming the second worst prime minister in the nation’s history in the realm of preventive health.

Many readers will recall the notorious Stanley Bruce administration in the 1920s, which stood mutely by as the plague of syphilis claimed innocent lives.

The 10th session of the Australasian Medical Congress was told in September 1927 that drinking anything, not just Coca-Cola, was dangerous.

“The use of a drinking vessel, used by an infected person, a mere kiss, may infect you with this terrible scourge,” the congress was warned.

The meeting, incidentally, was held three weeks after Hitler’s denunciation of international Jewry at the 1927 Nuremberg Rally, but Sydney’s The Sunday Times was not afraid to make the big call.

“Our Worst Enemy,” its headline read, “Not Germany – But Venereal Disease.”

The clap catastrophist movement of the 1920s had friends in high places. Harvey Sutton, principal medical officer at the NSW Department of Public Instruction, called a press conference two months later to reveal new findings: syphilis was a bigger killer than cancer. The spirochete bacterium was “the chief de-vitaliser of humanity”, Sutton warned the press.

“It is the gift of the underworld … Like Herod, it causes a veritable slaughter of the innocents.”

The suspicion that the doctor may have been exaggerating a little is strengthened by reference to the commonwealth government’s causes of deaths register for 1927. There were 44 deaths from syphilis recorded that year; by comparison 5700 lives were lost to cancer and 8300 to heart disease.

Let us return to the Coca-Cola epidemic of today, and consider if the people fighting for a flab-free future for our children might be egging it a little in blaming the ubiquitous brown beverage for a “growing public health crisis”.

Indeed, is there a crisis at all, and, if so, can it be said that it is growing?

In 1927, tuberculosis claimed 2850 lives; today we have one of the lowest infection rates in the world.

Tragically, 54 Australians died in tramway accidents in that momentous year; these days it is practically zero.

A child born in 1927 had a one in 18 chance of dying before its first birthday, today it is one in 250.

The OPC warns that obesity contributes to heart disease and diabetes. Maybe so, but Australians are 2.3 times less likely to die from a stroke than they were in 1970 and 2.7 times less likely to die from coronary artery disease.

The prevalence of diabetes in Australia is somewhat lower than the OECD average and half the rate of Canada. It has remained steady for the past seven years and Australians are 20 per cent less likely to die of the disease than they were in 1997.

Is it too dangerous to suggest that in most respects we may actually be getting healthier?

Public health bodies, however, cringe at good news, which constrains their ability to extract money from the public purse. No disrespect, but that is how this racket works.

Coca-Cola tried to placate the sugar prohibitionists’ concerns about vending machines by displaying the kilojoule content of their drinks, ranging from Classic Coke (675 in a 375ml can) to Mount Franklin Water (zero).

The blubber busters are far from satisfied, however. They take a dim view of the intelligence and resolve of Coca-Cola’s customers.

“We know that information is a very, very weak way of making a difference,” the OPC’s Jane Martin told ABC viewers recently. “We’re talking about policy change. That’s what we’d like to see.”

In the language of the activist, “policy change” means only one thing: the dispiriting intrusion of government into the business of everyday life.

Specifically, they want to see something done about television. They would like a ban on advertisements for sugary food.

The other thing that could be done about TV is to turn the damn thing off. We could tell the kids to go outside and ride their bikes, which is what Coca-Cola is trying to encourage by sponsoring bicycles to put them in the price range of the average family.

Naturally, the scheme has been greeted with horror by the OPC.

“They’re sponsoring bicycles with red and white branding,” Martin told the ABC’s Virginia Trioli. “Why not put blue and white on it and promote Mount Franklin?”

Trioli looked as if she was about to do that thing she does when Barnaby Joyce is talking, to let viewers know that the interview is getting rather silly.

“But that’s just water,” she pointed out.

“Nothing about their manufactured products is ever going to please you.”

Michael Rowland looked equally bemused. “Surely it’s a fantastic move, no matter what colour they paint the bike.”

“But at what cost?” demanded Martin. “They’re ingratiating themselves with teens.”

Readers might like to know how they can contribute to Martin’s salary and help prevent any more red bikes corrupting our youth.

Taxpayers in Victoria will be pleased to know they are already paying their whack thanks to the generosity of VicHealth.

Others can contribute by donating to the OPC’s sponsors, including the Cancer Council of Victoria.

As they say when they rattle the tin, it’s all for a good cause.