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Lawrie McFarlane: Sugary cereals should come with warning labels

The many consequences of obesity
Cereal companies are using sugar to attract kids the same way tobacco companies used to sell cigarettes by surreptitiously upping the nicotine content, writes Lawrie McFarlane, noting Kellogg's Honey Smacks are more than 50 per cent sugar.

It’s long been known that obesity is linked to cardiovascular disease, and a greater likelihood of requiring hip and knee replacements. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30, while overweight is a BMI of 25 and over.

We also know that obesity is strongly associated with Type 2 diabetes. If you’re obese, your chances of developing that ailment are six times higher than otherwise.

However, lately some additional consequences have become clear.

A recent U.S. report found that obese patients who contracted COVID were 113 per cent more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74 per cent more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48 per cent more likely to die.

The reason appears to be that obesity can result in blood clotting. In severe cases, this can overwhelm lung vessels, and may explain why obese patients are much more likely to suffer respiratory complications from COVID, and why so many die.

A new study, published two weeks ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests a more alarming consequence of obesity. For the first time, a direct association has been shown between obesity and certain types of cancer, among them endometrial cancer, ovary, colon and and breast cancer.

The study compared obese patients who had weight-loss operations (bariatric surgery) with a control group who were also obese but did not have surgery. The first group lost an average of 20 to 40 kilograms, while the second lost only two kilograms on average.

It was shown that obese adults who underwent bariatric surgery had a 32 per cent lower risk of developing certain cancers, and a 48 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer, than patients who did not have the surgery. The greater the weight loss, the lower the risk of cancer.

It had previously been suspected that there was a link between obesity and cancer. This study appears to confirm it.

Indeed, obesity is now second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of cancer in the United States, and will soon become No. 2 in Canada.

The reason is apparent. Over the next 20 years, the number of Canadian cancer cases caused by obesity are projected to triple. Why? Because among Canadian adults, more than half are overweight or obese, twice the 1970s rate

And here is the problem. Bariatric surgery is by far the most effective way for obese patients to lose weight, but only two hospitals in B.C. perform this operation — Royal Jubilee in Victoria and Richmond Hospital on the Lower Mainland. Waiting times can be three years.

In effect, this is not a solution for most.

What could help would be an information campaign laying out in detail what we now know to be the wider range of health risks associated with obesity. Campaigns of that sort definitely reduced the incidence of cigarette smoking.

But might we go further? Sugary soft drinks are a major contributor to obesity, yet low-cal alternatives are readily available. What about a ban on sugary soft drinks?

Then how about kids’ cereals? Kellogg’s Honey Smacks are more than 50 per cent sugar.

Basically, cereal companies are using sugar to attract kids the same way tobacco companies used to sell cigarettes by surreptitiously upping the nicotine content.

So let’s put warning notices on sugary cereals. Something like: “feeding this to your child invites obesity, tooth decay and cancer later on.”

For nothing less than a full-scale revolution is needed in the way we feed ourselves.