Unsung heroes warned us of refined carbs
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.