TCS Daily

Danish Good Sense: Calories In, Calories Out

By Chresten Anderson - September 29, 2004 12:00 AM

The Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) recently reported that a soft drink per day doubles the risk of women getting type 2 diabetes. The online news story featured a doctor who argued that both men and women jeopardize their health when they consume soft drinks. A picture of a mountain of cola bottles served as an illustration of this new public health problem.

In itself, this news story is not very interesting. The Danish media, especially DR, often run scaremongering apocalyptic stories about the dangers of modern society. Bad news sells, and most people have probably come to accept this fact. There is also nothing unique about the doctor who lent his name to the message in the news story. Experts willingly identify problems for society that only they, the scientists, can solve, often securing a steady flow of government funds into their research programs.

But this time something highly unexpected occurred. The experts at the Danish Diabetes Association sent out a press release in which they discredited the claim that a soft drink a day increases the risk of getting type 2 diabetes. In fact, the association went so far as to declare that "naturally, one does not get type 2 diabetes from drinking soft drinks and juice."

The chairman of the Danish Diabetes Association, professor Allan Flyvbjerg, went on to explain that type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle illness, which can in fact be a hereditary disease. Hence there are many factors that may cause type 2 diabetes -- the simple cola a day just doesn't cut it.

Professor Flyvbjerg sticks to the facts: "It is no secret, and certainly not news, that there is sugar in soft drinks and juice and that sugar fattens. With no exercise and a large consumption of soft drinks, it is therefore certainly possible to become obese and with obesity there is a risk of diabetes. This is also no secret."

People can take charge of their own life and if they act responsible, they can prevent life style diseases. As Professor Flyvbjerg continues, "The problem is not soft drinks and juice, or candies, cakes, burgers, chips and other fatty food products. The problem is, that many people in the western hemisphere, each day, consume more and more calories than they burn off and therefore they become obese."

Unfortunately, people like to blame others for their problems instead of taking a critical look at their own actions and lifestyle. In the United States, two young women recently sued a fast food chain for their obesity problems; the British government recently proposed a so-called "fat tax" to discourage people from eating certain types of food; regulators in countries such as France and Sweden are playing with similar ideas.

At best, politicians, scientists, lawyers and bureaucrats presenting obesity doomsday scenarios or pushing frivolous lawsuits simply provide comic relief for sensible people. At worst, however, junk science and denial of individual responsibility leads to unnecessary government regulation that hurts small businesses. Big corporations have the resources to cope with complicated laws and taxes, but small restaurants and businesses might have to shut down as a result of government policies.

Journalists and politicians would therefore do well to pay more attention to voices of common sense such as the Danish Diabetes Association. The best way to prevent obesity is not government regulations, but for individuals to exercise regularly and to have a healthy, well-balanced diet. If we all accept responsibility for our own health, we may not be as doomed as the junk scientists think we are.

Chresten Anderson is the chairman of MarkedsCentret, a Danish public policy think tank.


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