Yves here. I am a bit surprised to see Richard Murphy limit his criticism of ultra-processed foods to fructose and its probable connection to Type 2 diabetes. The BMJ publicized two large scale studies in 2019 that found a strong correlation between higher levels of consumption of ultra-processed foods and bad health outcomes. From the press release (which I encourage you to read in full):
Two large European studies published by The BMJ today find positive associations between consumption of highly processed (“ultra-processed”) foods and risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
The researchers say further work is needed to better understand these effects, and a direct (causal) link remains to be established, but they call for policies that promote consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods over highly processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, dehydrated vegetable soups, and reconstituted meat and fish products – often containing high levels of added sugar, fat, and/or salt, but lacking in vitamins and fibre. They are thought to account for around 25-60% of daily energy intake in many countries.
And a 2023 study from The Lancet:
Global dietary patterns are increasingly dominated by relatively cheap, highly palatable, and ready-to-eat ultra-processed foods (UPFs). However, prospective evidence is limited on cancer development and mortality in relation to UPF consumption. This study examines associations between UPF consumption and risk of cancer and associated mortality for 34 site-specific cancers in a large cohort of British adults.
This study included a prospective cohort of UK Biobank participants (aged 40–69 years) who completed 24-h dietary recalls between 2009 and 2012 (N = 197426, 54.6% women) and were followed up until Jan 31, 2021. Food items consumed were categorised according to their degree of food processing using the NOVA food classification system. Individuals’ UPF consumption was expressed as a percentage of total food intake (g/day). Prospective associations were assessed using multivariable Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for baseline socio-demographic characteristics, smoking status, physical activity, body mass index, alcohol and total energy intake.
The mean UPF consumption was 22.9% (SD 13.3%) in the total diet. During a median follow-up time of 9.8 years, 15,921 individuals developed cancer and 4009 cancer-related deaths occurred. Every 10 percentage points increment in UPF consumption was associated with an increased incidence of overall (hazard ratio, 1.02; 95% CI, 1.01–1.04) and specifically ovarian (1.19; 1.08–1.30) cancer. Furthermore, every 10 percentage points increment in UPF consumption was associated with an increased risk of overall (1.06; 1.03–1.09), ovarian (1.30; 1.13–1.50), and breast (1.16; 1.02–1.32) cancer-related mortality.
The communist empires of New York State and City each have serious cigarette taxes and they have cut down on per capita usage. Admittedly these taxes are regressive. But getting sick with little or no insurance is even more regressive, even if not as evenly distributed.
The irony is cheap food does not have to be highly processed. I am now in a pretty poor country which now also sports a longer life expectancy at birth than the US. Street food, which is nearly all “real” food, is inexpensive and everywhere (so many carts and tiny shops I have no idea how any make decent money and also suspect that many Thais find it cheaper to live without a kitchen and use the savings on purchased meals). And by contrast, junk food here is expensive, in part because it must be heavily packaged not to get soggy from humidity. I see virtually no soda drinking. Cakes and ice cream are not staples. But advanced economies don’t take well to people trundling around in bicycles or scooters with little flatbed sidecars that double as food stalls.
By Richard Murphy, part-time Professor of Accounting Practice at Sheffield University Management School, director of the Corporate Accountability Network, member of Finance for the Future LLP, and director of Tax Research LLP. Originally published at Tax Research
The Guardian has an article with this headline this morning:
The two between them reveal a truth that is almost wholly unspoken and little appreciated. This truth is that type 2 diabetes is a disease largely created by the consumption of too much sugar in the form of fructose and that the disease can be reversed by largely eliminating fructose from the diet of those suffering from that disease.
Fructose is like nicotine in cigarettes: it is an addictive drug hidden in a processed product (in this case, most of the ultra-processed food on sale in the UK) that has massive social consequences.
Many of those ultra-processed foods are sold to give us dopamine highs. They succeed in doing so. They also leave us wanting more. So, we go back and get it. The result is obesity. And from that follows, in too many cases, type 2 diabetes. The progression is known about, predictable, heavily researched and largely unknown because there is a massive conspiracy to hide the truth.
Those conspiring not to tell the truth are food manufacturers, food retailers and big pharma. The food industry and its retailers want to keep selling large quantities of fructose. Big pharma wants to keep us in the dark on the easy reversibility of a disease that can be straightforwardly cured without costly drug interventions that are overburdening the NHS.
How do they do that? By deliberately ensuring that misinformation is available. As the author of the second Guardian article notes:
I now realize my doctor was making an honest attempt to follow the [treatment] guidelines issued by the American Diabetes Association. I didn’t ask him if he was aware that the top five funders of the ADA are the pharmaceutical companies Abbott, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co, Novo Nordisk and Regeneron.
The guidelines on treating diabetes in the USA (and so elsewhere) are created by big pharma to suit the need of big pharma to sell a lot of drugs and not to cure people of type 2 diabetes in months, which could be done by prescribing proper diets that would cost considerably less than that diabetes drugs.
I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. Far too many are just crackpot. But an open mind is also required in a case like this. We know the tobacco industry lied for decades about the impact of smoking.
We know that the Bank of England speaks nonsense when imposing its charges on society.
And the sugar-based food industry and big pharma are doing the same when it comes to fructose-based ultra-processed foods that are profoundly harmful.
There is no VAT on most food in the UK. I seriously wonder whether that should be changed now. Should the exemption just be available on non or low-processed foods? Wouldn’t that make as much sense as taxes on tobacco?