Wisynco sues Heart Foundation: Is sugar the new tobacco?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

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Under our sub judice laws, we have no intention of commenting on the rightness or wrongness of the Wisynco Group's defamation lawsuit against the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HJF) for allegedly “false and misleading information” about its trademarked products, in particular, CranWata.

But, as the matter is one of great public interest, we hope that the chief justice of Jamaica will see his way to fast-tracking the case through the courts, as the outcome will assist the populace to determine whether to accept the HFJ's claim that children are drinking themselves sick because of excessive sugar.

The HFJ's advertising campaign, which began airing towards the end of 2017 with the support of the Ministry of Health, in some ways mirrors the “Dad Knows Best” campaign by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In some aspects, too, it resembles the long-running battle against tobacco, mainly cigarette-smoking, which has largely resulted in a ban on smoking in public places, apparently in most countries across the globe.

As happened in the no-smoking campaign, the anti-sugar lobby has been gaining momentum in its global obesity prevention campaign, driving a message that overconsumption of sugar has devastating consequences on health, especially in children.

The HFJ and the Ministry of Health's 'Jamaica Moves' initiative has been stressing what it says is the “important role parents play in ensuring their children develop healthy habits”.

“The campaign is designed to increase awareness of the harms of sugary drinks to children and prompt parents and guardians to purchase healthier options for themselves and their children…(and) will run on TV, radio, print, billboards and social media,” the HFJ said.

It relies on World Health Organization (WHO) claims that obesity rates have become more prevalent among children over the last four decades, with figures moving from 32 million in 1990 to 42 million in 2016.

“WHO states that the majority of overweight children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase is 31 per cent higher than in developed countries. If current trends continue, the number of overweight or obese infants and young children globally may increase to 70 million by 2025.”

The Jamaica segment of the WHO's 2017 Global School-Based Student Health Survey, Jamaica 2017, said it found that obesity rates in boys had almost doubled since 2010, with girls not far behind with rates increasing by 47 per cent.

HFJ said the 2017 survey also found that 69.9 per cent of children aged 13-15 consume carbonated soft drinks one or more times per day, and concluded that children who consume this amount of sugary drinks increase their odds of being overweight by 50 per cent.

“Continuous consumption of this amount of sugary drinks will not only increase a child's chance of being overweight, but also exposes them to various health problems such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” HFJ said.

Again, as with the no-smoking lobby, we expect that Wisynco will want empirical evidence of the veracity of those claims, and that the HFJ will draw on its international partners to prove its case, making it one of historical proportions in Jamaica.

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