Thursday, 13 October 2016

Another Outbreak Of Common Sense In New South Wales

Those with a good memory might remember Peter Phelps, an Australian politician and Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. Phelps is notable for being incredibly principled in defending liberal values in such an illiberal environment as NSW, and in a chamber which is situated in nanny state central Sydney. As such, I was thrilled to unexpectedly meet him in July during a coffee break at a Royal Society of Medicine event on over-regulation of pleasure.

Last year - when he was government whip no less - I wrote about how he casually entered a chamber packed full of variously ignorant prejudiced prohibitionists armed only with insults, smears, innuendo, wild assumptions, and downright lies, and placed in front of them simple incontrovertible facts about e-cigarettes.

And arguably won hands down.

Well, on Monday he was delivering more common sense, this time at the NSW "Inquiry into childhood overweight and obesity", colloquially known as the 'Fat kids' inquiry.

As expected he was sound throughout, but his exchange with Jane Martin - Executive Manager of what appears to be a turgid authoritarian organisation called Obesity Policy Coalition - was as amusing as it was accomplished.
Ms MARTIN: They should not be advertising to children so they should be happy to set that aside.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Why not? What is wrong with children who have high calorific outputs exposed to advertising which gives them high calorific inputs?
Ms MARTIN: Because children who do a lot of exercise need more healthy food, not junk food.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: How you achieve your calories is a component part of that. If a child has a diet which only gives the child 8,000 kilojoules a day and the child is expending 12,000 kilojoules a day that child is manifestly unhealthy.
Ms MARTIN: Elite athletes who do a lot of sport do not eat more unhealthy food because they need more calories. We need to eat a nutritious, healthy diet. If you are exercising a lot you get your calories from nutritious food.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: But no-one—certainly not McDonald's or any other company—is suggesting that your only diet be McDonald's.
Ms MARTIN: But it does make it a more normal part of life. It also associates sport with—
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Having enjoyable food is not a normal part of life? 
The denormalisation of McDonald's, eh? Rings a bell doesn't it?
Ms MARTIN: I suppose if McDonald's is called a Happy Meal then maybe that means it is but it means that having these associations—as a mother, I know what it does. You go to play sport and then the kid thinks that they deserve a McDonald's or it creates that affiliation, it creates that association, it creates the pester power. That is exactly what it is designed to do. We need to protect our kids and support parents who have to deal then with the demand that is created by those associations. That is what it is designed to do.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: But parents should be in a position to say, "No, you can't have that. You had a McDonald's yesterday. You're not having one today."
Ms MARTIN: But kids pester a lot because there are a lot of promotions that they are exposed to. Much more so than when you were young or I was young, it is a very different sort of environment. I saw some research the other day which talked about the amount of times that parents are pestered in the supermarket. It is massive. Why should parents be the ones to fight this marketing and promotion?
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Because they are parents, Ms Martin. 
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Are you saying that sweetened beverages in Australia are an increasing problem for people?
Ms MARTIN: I do not know that we said that in our submission. I think we said that what is acknowledged is that there is very high consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. Most of the added sugar in the diet comes from sugar-sweetened drinks and some subsections of the population are very high consumers of sugary drinks, particularly young men.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Would you agree with the Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] figures which indicate that the proportion of people aged two and over who have consumed sweetened beverages decreased from 49 per cent in 1995 to 42 per cent in 2011-12?
Ms MARTIN: Yes, that is true, but that is all people including people who do not necessarily drink sugary drinks.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Would you also agree that the ABS statistics show that the greatest decrease in consumption of sweetened beverages was seen among children, with the proportion of children aged two to three who consumed sweetened beverages decreasing by more than half, from 67 per cent down to 31 per cent?
Ms MARTIN: Has that taken into account the under-reporting in that survey? 
Ah, the old 'public health' under-reporting excuse, they trot this out occasionally. It's shorthand for "we can't argue with that so we'll try to pretend the data are flawed somehow". Phelps is on it, though.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: It certainly mentions under-reporting; however, I am sure that a survey taken some almost 20 years afterwards has better reporting mechanisms than the 1995 survey, which was more likely to be under-reported.
Ms MARTIN: My understanding is under-reporting was a bigger problem in that survey. However, it does appear there has been a decrease but that does not mean that sugary drinks are not a problem.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Do you also agree with the ABS statistic which showed the overall consumption of soft drinks and flavoured minerals waters decreased from 33 per cent in 1995 to 29 per cent in 2011-12?
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: And, moreover, the only age cohort which showed an increase in intense sweetened soft drinks was the ages 51 to 70?
Ms MARTIN: That is one subsection of the sugary drink market. I do not know what an intense—
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Presumably regular Coke and the like. Is it not true that in fact this supposed sugary drink menace is grossly over-reported whereby you have a situation of level or diminishing levels of sugary drink consumption in Australia over the previous 20 years and more particularly significantly lower levels of sugary drink consumption amongst children?
Ms MARTIN: I think you could still argue it is a serious problem ...
I suppose she will always have to say that no matter the statistics, considering it is the current approach of anti-obesity professional worldwide to lobby for taxation. They're not that interested in what works in so much as what is simple so they keep their highly-paid positions by producing 'results'.

And Phelps addresses this too.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Ms Martin, is it ever legitimate for a parent to feed their children McDonald's?
Ms MARTIN: We have all fed our children McDonald's. The problem is that these kinds of treats are everywhere now. I ate one chocolate a week when I was a kid; now there are three packaged foods in children's lunchboxes and they are basically all unhealthy. That is the problem.
"One chocolate a week"? I suppose there's a hint there as to why she's grown up to work in such a miserable, joy-vacuuming industry.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Children do not buy their own lunches and put them in their lunchboxes. Their parents buy it for them. Again it comes down to this: Are you saying because we do not think particularly working-class parents are very good parents that it is government's role to step in and stop them being parents and it is government's job to be parents for them?
Ms MARTIN: I think it is government's job to support parents and that parents are undermined a lot. I think a lot of parents, including myself, thought that things like Nutrigrain were healthy foods for my child. It has just been reformulated to 26 per cent sugar, but it was 33 per cent sugar. I did not know that was not a healthy product, because that is how it is promoted. A lot of people would think that Milo was a healthy product. The Olympics was sponsored by McDonald's and Coca-Cola, because being affiliated with health makes the products appear to have healthier attributes than they have. I think that governments should support parents.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: They should, but they should support them not in a sense of prohibiting or using draconian powers to stop things from happening and rather to encourage greater participation in sport, surely?
Ms MARTIN: I think there are a lot of nudges, like taxing sugary drinks, like removing things that create the demand for these products in children, which is the incredible barrage and wallpaper of unhealthy foods marketing that our children are exposed to. We need to see the Health Star Rating made mandatory on all foods, and some improvements made in how the rating is applied so that Milo does not get 4½ stars.
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: That is simply because it is easier for governments to ban things rather than have effective behavioural change—you do not like the behaviour and so you ban things.
Bravo! Yep, that's about the sum of it. Well played again, Sir!

You can read the full transcript here, The excerpts above come from pages 10-14 of the PDF. Also look out for an appearance by Skype from Snowdon on pages 62-66.

H/T Catallaxy Files

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