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Sugar Kills

By Shlomo Maital

The Price of Sugar, 2016-2017

   The excessive consumption of sugar kills people. That’s a fact.   Here is what I found on a website:

Sugar is just empty and quickly digested calories that actually pull minerals from the body during digestion. It creates a hormone cascade when consumed that starts a positive feedback loop in the body to encourage more consumption. In a time when food was scarce and needed to be contained in large amounts in the summer when available to survive the winter, this was a good thing. In today’s world of constant access to processed foods, this natural biological purpose highlights one of the negative effects of sugar. Here’s why:

       “Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition says, “white refined sugar-is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways. Its true name is sucrose and its chemical formula is C12H22O11. It has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, 11 oxygen atoms, and absolutely nothing else to offer.” …The chemical formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4. Sugar’s formula again is C12H22O11. For all practical purposes, the difference is that sugar is missing the “N”, or nitrogen atom.”

A 16 ounce bottle of Coke contains 52 grams of sugar. According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 37.5 grams of sugar daily, total (9 teaspoons) and women, 25 grams (6 teaspoons). The epidemic of Type 2 diabetes must surely be related to the consumption of sugar beverages. One bottle of Coke exceeds the daily limit by nearly half.

   Guess what!   People are beginning to get it. Sugar consumption is down, and with the drop in demand, the price of sugar has plummeted! Good news? Not really.   The cheap sugar simply boosts profits of Coke and other beverage companies, and enables them to market aggressively – and deceitfully.

   Here is a personal example. I attended a Food Innovation conference here in Israel. The keynote speaker was an American food scientist, who presented research “proving” the obesity problem of Americans (one person in three is obese) was not related to sugar foods and drinks but — lack of exercise. Before him, the Coca Cola VP for marketing spoke. Of course, the scientist’s research was funded by …Coke. And so was much of the conference. Few people understand how powerful the sugar lobby is, all over the world, fueled by massive profits. Coke earned $6.5 b. in net income in 2016, down from nearly $10 b. in 2012.   Why down? Despite Coke’s efforts, people finally are getting it.

   But there is a problem – naturally, an economic problem. Falling demand for sugar leads to lower prices. The price of sugar has dropped by almost a third since March. Today sugar is ridiculously cheap. And that, of course, encourages even more use of sugar.   And generates even higher profits for Coke. (See Graph).

   Sugar is addictive. The more you eat, the more insulin your body produces to digest it – and the more you crave.   Here in Israel, the Ministry of Health has a plan to require food companies to put red labels on foods that have high sugar content. The food lobby has fought this fiercely, and still is.

   Let’s fight back. Cut back on your sugar. And react with anger at the efforts of high-sugar beverage companies to manipulate you.   This is a tough fight – free-market economics means that the less we consume, the cheaper the stuff gets and hence the higher the incentive to use more of it.

There has to be a role here for the govt. regulator. If the government pays for the health costs of excess sugar consumption (that means, WE pay for it), then there should be some form of regulation – even a warning label, like tobacco. Why not?

Soft Skills Start in Pre-K

By Shlomo Maital

Coke machine

In 1982, engineers at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, built a Coke machine connected to the Internet (or the existing network – Internet did not yet exist), that could report how many Cokes had been sold and how cold they were.   This was perhaps the birth of what we know now as the Internet of Everything – everything, everyone, connected, everywhere, all the time, by Internet. By 2025, only 10 years from now, some 25 to 50 billion devices will be connected – cars (self drive), fridges, people, computers, machines, virtually everything.

   Great? A new 20 trillion dollar industry? Jobs?   Happy people?

   Perhaps. But the downside could be, a sharp decline in people’s social skills.  When things talk to each other, people need not.   And social skills, society, collaboration, community, friendship, helping others, this is what makes us human, what keeps the world more or less together.

     Writing in the New York Times, Oct. 18, Claire Cain Miller makes a key point: “Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980”.   Yet cultivating those social skills is on the decline, in schools focused on homework and tests.   Increasingly, worldwide, even kindergarten kids are getting homework, instead of time to play.    The graph below shows how crucial social skills are in the kind of jobs that are coveted.

Preschool skills

   We recently visited Touchstone Community School in Grafton, MA.   We spoke with Cheryl and Tamara, who teach young children.   We shared recess with the kids, and romped in big grassy fields, threw frizbees and learned to do cartwheels.   We saw how vital recess, and play, are, for young children. And above all, we saw how easily very young children related to us, strangers,   called us by first names (a Touchstone touchstone), asked how we are, what we are doing, and even interviewed us. Those social skills did not just happen. They were cultivated.   And they grew especially in playtime, in recess.   We saw an older boy play with a wheel device, and a small child stood in front of it. The natural instinct: shove him aside. What the boy did?   Gently put his hand on the small child’s shoulder, explain to him that he was in the way, and ask him if he would please move aside.   THAT is a social skill. Perhaps as important as knowing 8 times 9 is 72.

   Technical skills can be automated, the author notes.   But social skills? We have to learn them, make them a part of our social DNA from an early age. Pre-kindergarten is crucial for this.   We must do everything to preserve the ‘soft’ skills learned in school, because they are the ones that are ‘hard’ to acquire later, and make us employable.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital