Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: Should the Government save us from sugar?

Most struggling Kiwis are not fat because they are lazy, Polly writes. Photo / Supplied
Most struggling Kiwis are not fat because they are lazy, Polly writes. Photo / Supplied

As I stood in a cafe at 7.30am on Saturday morning, waiting for my trim latte and double cheese scone (don't worry, the irony of my order didn't go by unnoticed), I read a leading endocrinologist's view on the obesity epidemic and a need for the obese to stand up and demand change. Right. I was standing.

I'm not a beacon of humility and appropriate behaviour. I refuse to call a doctor "doctor". I'm wilful and arrogant. I am "Jack" and I'm as good as my master. So I call doctors by their first names. I don't want to start beef with doctors at all; it's just that I have my pet theories.

We can all agree that sugar is today's "bad guy". It is white death, granulated heart disease, diabetes bait. But the idea that obese and overweight Kiwis need to demand change to our food regulations is a tall order.

I thought about it some more as I discarded the pat of butter in the scone bag and felt gleeful self-righteousness.

As an overweight person you become two things:

1. Embarrassed and longing for a XXL-sized invisibility cloak.

2. Desperate for a magic pill or, as I dreamed of as a child, a magic "ice-block" that would melt your fat as you ate it. (Again the irony as an adult doesn't go unnoticed.)

As an obese person you don't feel you have the right to demand anything. You are certainly not audacious enough to stand up and yell, "Hey, Government. It's your fault I'm fat!"

It may well be true. But loathed be a tubby like me to start yelling and screaming about it.

There is another factor that keeps many obese New Zealanders quiet: Culture.

I'm aware I'm in no way a cultural expert or anthropological genius, but I did grow up in a multicultural and diverse class climate. I learnt that bad food is cheap and easy, and that people working two or more jobs six or seven days a week do not have the time or energy to hunt for cheap, nutritious food.

In food we often find comfort from life's hardships. In sugar we often find the kick to keep going. Most struggling Kiwis are not fat because they are lazy. I believe they are fat because bad food is cheap and easy, and often there is no energy or money to make lentils with couscous and salad. Gosh, that sounds hideous. I'm not entirely sure that it's always the case but in a lot of stores two litres of sugary orange pop is cheaper than a litre of water.

In culture, as in all things, there is a belief in order and status.

"I am me and you are THE DOCTOR."

"I am me and you are the expert."

"I am worried about my family's health, what should I do, doctor?"

So when I read that some doctors and experts are calling for the obese among us to demand change, I find that to be culturally ignorant on some kind of level. I don't mean that as an insult, but simply an observation of the lack of cultural understanding.

I could be wrong. Maybe it is time that we fatties rose up in bulk and started demanding that sugar be removed from our food. Maybe it's time to herald processed foods as the baddy. But most of us are not scientists, doctors, nutritionists or people in a position of power.

Yes, of course we should all adhere to the motto of "moderation in all things." But tell that to the heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine addict. Sugar is an addictive substance, and people in power need to demand the change for all of our sakes.

The Government IS the people, so speak up for us and save us from drowning in a sea of sweet. There are rules around tobacco and alcohol, and many would argue that disease from poor diet kills just as many of us.

"Sugar is evil!" There you go. One fat person is yelling it.

- NZME.

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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

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