Un­sung he­roes warned us of re­fined carbs

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

Iread with in­ter­est your im­por­tant and some­what de­press­ing piece “Obe­sity could be the new smok­ing” (May 4). In 1966, 52 years ago, Thomas Cleave and Ge­orge Camp­bell wrote a book, Di­a­betes, Coro­nary Thrombosis and the Sac­cha­rine Dis­ease. The sac­cha­rine dis­ease was their name for the col­lec­tion of dis­eases con­se­quent on the over-con­sump­tion of re­fined car­bo­hy­drates.

Camp­bell, whom I knew well, re­mains one of the un­sung he­roes of pub­lic health in South Africa. He ar­gued that re­fined car­bo­hy­drates, es­pe­cially sug­ars, are ad­dic­tive, not needed and will even­tu­ally kill you and for these rea­sons they should be in­cluded in the list of banned sub­stances.

The sac­cha­rine dis­ease may have been one of the first to take a Dar­winian view of diet and health and Sir Richard Doll, in his fore­word to their book, wrote: “If only a small part of [the pre­dic­tions made in this book] prove to be cor­rect the authors will have made a big­ger con­tri­bu­tion to medicine than most univer­sity de­part­ments or med­i­cal re­search units make in the course of a gen­er­a­tion.” Liv­ing in KwaZulu-Na­tal, the main sug­arpro­duc­ing prov­ince of South Africa, these ar­gu­ments did not find favour with Camp­bell’s com­pa­tri­ots.

In their book Cleave and Camp­bell con­sid­ered the ef­fect of re­fined car­bo­hy­drates on di­a­betes, obe­sity, den­tal caries, pep­tic ul­cer, coro­nary dis­ease and dis­eases caused by cer­tain strains of Escherichia coli and were in­vited to make rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the United States’s Se­nate select com­mit­tee on nu­tri­tion and hu­man needs chaired by sen­a­tor Ge­orge McGovern in 1970.

It would be en­cour­ag­ing if their early stud­ies, now also linked to Alzheimer’s dis­ease, were to bring about a change in at­ti­tudes towards re­fined car­bo­hy­drates and sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove pub­lic health in South Africa and through­out the world. The im­po­si­tion of a sugar tax with the pro­ceeds to be used to sub­sidise real food could go a long way towards ad­dress­ing the prob­lem of obe­sity as well as the many other med­i­cal con­di­tions shown by Cleave and Camp­bell to be driven by the over con­sump­tion of re­fined car­bo­hy­drates.

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