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Speaker: Talking past each other: Ideological silos and research

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  • Tim Darlington, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Genetics does work like that. You have a base frequency of a specific genotype, in this case tendency towards obesity.

    You then change environmental conditions, in this case availability of calories. What happens then is the frequency of obesity goes up...

    So, we're just looking at a situation in which an astonishing number of people are genetically predisposed to obesity, but the environment didn't offer them enough calories to become obese until the end of the 1970s, since when the availability of calories has been skyrocketing? Toomath's got some serious evidential hurdles to clear with that one.

    Since Nov 2006 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Joshua Arbury,

    Really good article. Isn't the key point here that both sides need to recognise there's a trade-off here between their views which can't be avoided. So we need to discuss and debate the extent to which we are willing to make trade-offs.

    When it comes to tobacco it seems like society has made this trade-off in such a way that's broadly accepted - although it took a long time. This required massive research but also using that research cleverly and not avoiding tricky liberty trade-off discussions.

    We should be asking questions around the extent to which we would see gains for any restrictions so we can balance those up.

    Auckland • Since May 2009 • 235 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to James Butler,

    this is also regressive and unfair

    or ironically progressive if it improves the health of poorer people the most.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19518 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Joshua Arbury,

    although it took a long time

    .. because the tobacco industry spent millions resisting change, for decades, costing millions of lives. That's a good enough precedent for tackling other industrial harms, surely?

    Why would big 'food' companies pay arseholes like Carrick Graham to lobby on their behalf against public health academics?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19518 posts Report Reply

  • st ephen, in reply to Joshua Arbury,

    No, I think the key point is that ideology-driven 'research' will always cherry pick evidence that suits its case and ignore evidence that doesn't. Bad public health scientists can be guilty of this, but it is ridiculous to expect a right-wing think tank to do anything but.
    So it's essentially a waste of time engaging with them on technical details. Might as well get straight to the point - they do not believe in a public health system because they can afford health insurance and private health care and don't want to subsidise other people. And in a globalised post-industrial world where wealth generates wealth, they no longer need poor local people to work in their factories or buy their products.

    dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 253 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Nothing like slapping a tax on something to make us feel something is being done. I very much doubt taxing sodas (because that is the proposal) will achieve anything at all. Unlike tobacco, sugar's in most supermarket foods, including the fancy expensive ones poor people can't afford. And our bodies make glucose from the more complex carbohydrates. We'd die without it.

    Could we maybe look at addressing poverty? Obviously that is complex and difficult, so we’ll punish the poor instead.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3886 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Would there be justification in suggesting that the apparent rise in ideological Think Tanks strongly correlates with the state of journalism and the ease of bypassing independent media?

    Journalists go to work for Comms teams and PR firms, where the money is. Media organisations struggle to produce content. PR firms and ideological think tanks provide targeted content for media to re-print without serious scrutiny. If media doesn't reproduce it near-verbatim, they give it away for free and unmoderated social media ensures it's shared anyway. In some cases, media even collaborates with well funded ideological lobby groups to produce content, such as Fairfax joining forces with the Taxpayers' Union for that local council spending project several years ago.

    I am slightly torn about funded research. There can easily be cherry picking, but sometimes the only way to be heard is to fund the research that might be needed to demonstrate a point you're trying to make. Especially if nobody else is producing the necessary research. It's the lack of rational scrutiny and discussion which often follows that can be most concerning.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1133 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Lilith __,

    I very much doubt taxing sodas (because that is the proposal) will achieve anything at all.

    In the past I've struggled to understand how it'd make a significant difference, just because I figured that pricing's so intensely artificial with fizzy drinks that it'd seem so easy for many taxes to be absorbed, but lately I've been reconsidering. If many people who'd often simply buy Coke switched to Coke Zero because, when side-by-side on the shelf, the former went up by $0.50c/litre and the latter didn't, is the tax then useful for causing a behavioural change away from sugar consumption on a mass scale?

    Yes, I get that ideally people wouldn't drink lots of Coke of any sort and filled themselves up with better food and drink to begin with! But let's assume that won't necessarily happen overnight because... human nature and stuff.

    Also, I get that sugar is in far too many other foods where it shouldn't be, for which there aren't nearly so many immediately available substitutes that can slot into people's existing lives... which is a problem. But does reducing the masses of high sugar fizzy drinks being consumed do something useful towards addressing at least part of the problem?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1133 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to izogi,

    If many people who’d often simply buy Coke switched to Coke Zero because, when side-by-side on the shelf, the former went up by $0.50c/litre and the latter didn’t, is the tax then useful for causing a behavioural change away from sugar consumption on a mass scale?

    I very much doubt that would happen. And there is evidence that diet beverages actually indirectly cause more weight gain than sugary sodas do.

    And, as I and others have said above, sugar is a nutrient. Diet and its relationship with health is so complex.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3886 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    This article about The Biggest Loser contestants is interesting

    When he got on the scale for all to see that evening, Dec. 8, 2009, he weighed just 191 pounds, down from 430. Dressed in a T-shirt and knee-length shorts, he was lean, athletic and as handsome as a model.

    “I’ve got my life back,” he declared. “I mean, I feel like a million bucks.”

    Mr. Cahill left the show’s stage in Hollywood and flew directly to New York to start a triumphal tour of the talk shows, chatting with Jay Leno, Regis Philbin and Joy Behar. As he heard from fans all over the world, his elation knew no bounds.

    But in the years since, more than 100 pounds have crept back onto his 5-foot-11 frame despite his best efforts. In fact, most of that season’s 16 contestants have regained much if not all the weight they lost so arduously. Some are even heavier now.

    Most people who have tried to lose weight know how hard it is to keep the weight off, but many blame themselves when the pounds come back. But what obesity research has consistently shown is that dieters are at the mercy of their own bodies, which muster hormones and an altered metabolic rate to pull them back to their old weights, whether that is hundreds of pounds more or that extra 10 or 15 that many people are trying to keep off.

    There is always a weight a person’s body maintains without any effort. And while it is not known why that weight can change over the years — it may be an effect of aging — at any point, there is a weight that is easy to maintain, and that is the weight the body fights to defend. Finding a way to thwart these mechanisms is the goal scientists are striving for. First, though, they are trying to understand them in greater detail.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3886 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to william blake,

    By taxing the manufacturer it becomes their job to reformulate the food, with less sugars, fats, pesticides etc, which is the objective here.

    No, the incentive for them to do this is exactly the same regardless of where the tax is applied.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Sacha,

    this is also regressive and unfair

    or ironically progressive if it improves the health of poorer people the most.

    No, the progressive option is always to make poor people less poor.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to James Butler,

    The thing with using a punitive tax as a way to tackle problems associated with poverty, is that it equates to making already-poor people poorer until they make the decision you want them to. It's treating the symptoms by threatening to make the disease worse.

    Worry about poverty first, and any problems which remain will by definition not be driven by poverty. I don't know if it's the easiest or most efficient way to reduce the rates of smoking/drinking/obesity/tooth decay/whatever: it's the only ethically defensible starting point.

    (Let's think for a second about why smoking (or example) is more prevalent in people with less money. I mean cigarettes are expensive, right? But they're cheaper than a whole lot of the things which make life enjoyable for the middle classes - cheaper than a home with a view, cheaper than an overseas holiday, cheaper than an education.)

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to James Butler,

    They are not mutually exclusive. Agree about tackling poverty. This is just one strange case where the health benefits accrue unequally in the different direction than usual.

    The one that worries me is upcoming road pricing/congestion charging - if it does not come with some with subsidies for the poor, it will price them off the roads first.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19518 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Sacha,

    They are not mutually exclusive.

    That's right, it's just that one is unethical and the other is not.

    The one that worries me is upcoming road pricing/congestion charging – if it does not come with some with subsidies for the poor, it will price them off the roads first.

    I mostly agree, although the nuance with road pricing (and ETS/carbon tax) is that poor people use these things proportionately less, so they are inherently progressive. This is somewhat countered by the fact that poor people generally have fewer choices to e.g. move house or renegotiate their working hours to make transport easier. So ideally large improvements in public transport would be implemented before, or at the same time as, congestion pricing, but it's the nature of politics in NZ cities that I don't know what the chances are of that happening...

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to James Butler,

    Worry about poverty first, and any problems which remain will by definition not be driven by poverty.

    You are assuming that obesity is a health problem only in the poor. While it is biased towards the poor it is pretty widely spread across all income groups.

    I have no problem with targeting poverty as a problem by, you know, throwing money at it.

    But I have a real problem with you repeating arguments that were proven false with respect to tobacco. The harm to rich and poor from tobacco was significantly reduced by increasing the price. The same is highly likely (but certainly) true for the harm from high sugar foods.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4426 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lilith __,

    And, as I and others have said above, sugar is a nutrient. Diet and its relationship with health is so complex.

    You're arguing that because we can digest sugars they can't be bad for you. I don't think the data out there in the literature support that logic. We certainly didn't evolve to eat much sugar, not that evolutionary arguments are entirely trustworthy either.

    The point is, just about every scientist who specializes in nutrition says that same thing, that foods with super high levels of sugar are not healthy sources of calories and strongly associated with a number of diseases.

    And the point about artificial sweeteners is valid too - the thinking now is that artificial sweeteners condition people to want sweeter foods so while they may not get calories from the drink with artificial sweeteners they compensate by increasing the sugar content of the rest of their diet.

    Nobody is suggesting reducing the consumption of high sugar drinks will solve all our diet problems - but they are a real outlier when it comes to food. 330 mL of liquid with 8 teaspoons of sugar in it is pretty extreme, that's like a latte with 6 teaspoons of sugar!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4426 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    highly likely (but certainly) true

    ...(but NOT certainly)...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4426 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    You are assuming that obesity is a health problem only in the poor. While it is biased towards the poor it is pretty widely spread across all income groups.

    Not at all - I'm saying that because it is biased towards the poor, any solution which attempts to fix it by increasing price will disproportionately affect the poor, and that's not OK.

    But I have a real problem with you repeating arguments that were proven false with respect to tobacco. The harm to rich and poor from tobacco was significantly reduced by increasing the price.

    "Proven false" in what way? I'm not suggesting that taxing sugar won't decrease sugar consumption. I'm suggesting that regardless of whether it works or not, it shouldn't be done.

    I might be persuaded that sugar and tobacco are qualitatively different enough that the tobacco tax is justified in a way the sugar tax isn't - because tobacco isn't food. If we had tomacco the calculus would be different.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart,

    One reason that sugar is a widespread additive to foods is its low cost. These days it is in almost every processed food, and not because it is needed for flavour. If I were in charge (heh!) I'd tax sugar, not food or drink, but refined sugar. That ought to have the effect of reducing its attractiveness as an additive. I'd also need to regulate artificial sweeteners so that they were not needlessly used to replace the natural stuff.
    The fact is humanities' sweet tooth has been embiggened by continual exposure to larger and larger doses of sugar, often unknowingly. Mainly because sugar is so cheap- my eye opener was reading Sweetness and Power by Sidney W. Mintz, who traces the history of sugar and its evolving usage.
    https://www.bookdepository.com/Sweetness-and-Power/9780140092332

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    James, if there is a tax put on sugar at the wholesalers end between say Chelsea and GF Watties, specifically aimed at reducing the use of sugar, why would the manufacturer not change the formulation of their product rather than increasing their price? (Wattie baked beans now have 6 teaspoons of sugar in each can a 100% increase over 15 years)

    This seems to be a practical approach, in contrast to your ethical "regardless of weather it works" way. The poor will get diabetes just the same as the rich.

    Since Mar 2010 • 367 posts Report Reply

  • CarrickGrahamNZ,

    Good article Rebecca. There's certainly truth in the comment "We do usually have a bit of common ground, but we’re not going to find it by standing on opposite sides of an ideological divide throwing buzzwords at each other."

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to william blake,

    James, if there is a tax put on sugar at the wholesalers end between say Chelsea and GF Watties, specifically aimed at reducing the use of sugar, why would the manufacturer not change the formulation of their product rather than increasing their price? (Wattie baked beans now have 6 teaspoons of sugar in each can a 100% increase over 15 years)

    The exact same logic applies if the tax is exacted at Chelsea, Watties, or Countdown. Manufacturers will make strike whichever balance between increasing prices and reducing sugar ends up with them maximising their profits; and it will be the same balance no matter where the the tax is applied because the only components in play are a) the cost of manufacturing, b) the end price to the consumer, and c) the total value of the tax.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to william blake,

    not pay a sugar or fat tax, that would be penalising the victims of the consumerist hegemony. The manufacturers of products that cause the harms should be given the hospital bills,

    At best that is similar to a tax, except that the amount is uncertain and the cost is only applied long after the profit has been spent. Look at asbestos for an example - the health effects only became obvious long after the industry started, and when those costs were applied the companies declared themselves bankrupt and that was that.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1118 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to James Butler,

    because tobacco isn’t food

    So your problem is that a tax on high sugar foods/drinks is bad because it's essential for poor folk to eat/drink these products in a way that it is not essential for them to smoke???

    Really?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4426 posts Report Reply

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