The 'Fizzy' Industry Takes a Stand!
Sunday, August 2, 2015 at 10:47AM
Bill Barclay

I don't believe that it is appropriate as a rule for me as a commentator on local affairs to become involved in 'moral' issues, to pontificate, or for that matter tell people how they should lead their lives - far from it.

But one particular issue that gets right up my nose where I think there is an element of cant and hypocrisy that needs to be called for what it is, concerns the current argument over fizzy drink and the incidence of dental caries in young children. Okay, I realise that there is a carry-over here with the fluoride issue, but it is not a link I wish to make other than to say that there are similar issues involving parental responsibility involved with each.

The issue over fizzies was raised by well-known anti-sugar (and fluoride) campaigner - head of dental health at Nelson Health Board, Rob Beaglehole. He is quoted in Fairfax this week as having said:

"Cavities in children’s teeth are on the rise, and some as young as 18 months are having multiple rotten teeth pulled out after parents feed them soft drinks through sipper bottles, and chocolate biscuits as bedtime treats."

The response from Kerry Tyack - Executive Director of the NZ Beverage Council which represents soft drink giants Coca-Cola and Frucor,  as well as boutique manufacturers such as Phoenix was thus:

“The issue of young children with rotten teeth is one of poor parenting. No more and no less. Parents should be in complete control of what young children ate and drank, and it is a complete evasion of parental responsibility to shift the blame for the state of these children’s teeth onto the manufacturers of products which should, after all, be consumed as treats or in moderation”.

“It’s not the products. It’s the decision to use them inappropriately.”  

The issue revolves around the responsibility that we all have over and above that of parents for the welfare of children. This is a moral issue, and regardless of the self-serving statement of the CE of the Beverage Council, I believe that we do have that responsibility. Why else do we bother even having a Department of Social Welfare, and CYPS in particular. Why do we otherwise reserve the right to intervene in families to ensure the welfare of children.

This position may offend the deep held views of many readers that we should be aiming to get government out of our lives, but this country has held dearly to the need for children to be protected from at least the nineteen thirties with the passing of welfare and protection acts under the Savage Labour Government, and even the most right wing opponents of welfare would appear to abhor any retraction from this community responsibility.

Why therefore is the protection of young teeth - surely one of the most important aspects of child health - setting them up for a lifetime of health consequences directly connected to early stage oral health. To claim that this is entirely a parental responsibility is surely an abrogation of all we otherwise stand for as a community. It is nothing more than a repeat of the same arguments that were used by the tobacco industry based on personal responsibility - except that it is worse inasmuch as very young children are in play.

The kneejerk reaction of the Beverage Council is so redolent of the position of the tobacco industry that I am moved for the first time to make a personal stand, and support those who say that they are guilty of intolerable cant and hypocrisy.

I make this stand based on personal experience having been once Chief Executive of a Darwin Health Board responsible for Aboriginal health on Northern Territory islands under a Federal Government health initiative to deal with amongst other distressing statistics, alarmingly high rates of kidney (renal) disease. There were other factors at play, but by far the most important in the views of a number of researchers related to the extreme incidence of dental caries in the young. In some communities it was not unusual to have 100% extraction of teeth in young children - a distressing enough statistic for our dental people,  but almost criminal when considered alongside the level of white bread and Coca-Cola in particular being ingested in these communities by entire families..

The reult of this statistic over generations - particularly since the advent of social welfare payments and the setting up of community stores whose management openly admitted that the two products mentioned above represented the majority of their sales revenue, was dire. We were at time dealing with some of the highest levels of renal disease anywhere in the World. It was not unusual to have 20 people per thousand at any one time on dialysis at our clinics resulting from this disease - all with very low life expectancy. Researchers at the Northern Territory University Menzies School of Health Research were adamant that the early stage renal disease was directly, but not exclusively attributable to the vectors arising from the ingestion of those two items in particular by young children, leading to caries and oral points of entry for this disease. .

The Australian and Northern Territory Governments were unwilling or unable to take a firm stand on this abomination, and the consequences are there for all to see in the life expectancy and general health of these communities. As an aside, that complacency also led to my being forbidden to introduce safe small scale fluoride injection equipment into community water supplies as has happened in many small communities here in New Zealand, and paradoxically in Western Australia. At the same time, the teeth of residents in the major towns were so protected. Ironically, artesian water in the north of the NT was as devoid of fluoride as that which pertains here in this country, while that in the Alice Springs area had extremely high incidence due to geological factors, and an almost complete absence of caries as a result. 

We are either a village with responsibility for all our children, or we are not - we cannot have it both ways. Sure we are in favour of parental responsibility, and regular use of fluoride toothpaste or tablets through parental supervision, but surely we cannot allow parental ignorance or indifference to override our responsibility to ensure that every child gets a fair start - both health-wise, and through universal education.

That is why attempts to regulate sugar intake by young children, and ensure widespread fluoridation (and chlorination, for that matter for other legitimate reasons) are as important as limits placed on the availability of liquor and tobacco. If our Government had balls, it would do something about it - unfortunately, like conservative governments everywhere, it shys away from anything that smacks of what it perceives as political correctness. Mores the shame.

Thus ends the lesson for the day!

The Rev. William will as usual be available for debate on this matter on this site!




Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (
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