Boy, am I glad my free subscription is up to date. I had barely pulled the digital cling wrap off yesterday’s copy before I noticed sugar was being hotly debated by none other than the big kahuna of News Limited’s foray into online journalism, David Penberthy.

Dave was taking the big stick to that icon of Australian nutrition, Rosemary Stanton, for taking the big stick to that icon of, well, ah, crocodile stuff, Bindi Irwin. Rosemary was upset by an ad that Bindi had done which promoted a packet chocolate cake for Green’s. She didn’t think it was appropriate for a child to push unhealthy food to other kids.

Penbo came out flailing in defence of Big Sugar. Slamming Rosemary for delivering a “pretty out there tirade”, he went on to accuse her of being in “cloud cuckoo land” and suffering from “bad taste” while she was about it.

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Rosemary, you have a point. High profile kids shouldn’t advertise high sugar (the cake mix is 37% sugar) foods to kids. They will want to buy it (otherwise, Green’s “significant” contribution towards wildlife conservation will have been a waste of money). But it is cake mix. No-one is suggesting it is healthy, no-one is giving it a heart tick and no nutritionist is advertising it as a replacement for fruit or anything else. It’s a treat, we know it’s a treat and no-one is being duped.

David, you have a point — it’s just cake — but get a grip. Rosemary just said she was saddened by an inappropriate use of a child in advertising. No nuclear devices were detonated. Australia didn’t lose the Ashes. And no advertisers were harmed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am loving seeing the glitterati of the food debate (a little artistic license with that, I know) slugging it out in the broadsheets of the nation. But seriously people, there are bigger gummi bears to fry.

Streets want every child to get their “afternoon calcium” from their new Paddle Pop Moos. They proudly proclaim every single ice-block has the calcium of “one glass of milk” but leave the fact that it is 20% sugar to the small print. Nestle would rather the kids get their daily calcium from Milo Duo “nutritious energy cereal” (30% sugar) or a nice (Australian Heart Foundation approved) chocolate Billabong (19% sugar). Really health conscious kids are encouraged to go for some Uncle Toby’s Oats – So Tasty for Kids (30% sugar).

For that after breakfast snack, Kellogg’s wants you to feed your young iron-men Nutrigrain Bars and perhaps give the other kids some nice (heart foundation ticked) K-Time Twists (both 37% sugar — the same as the cake mix). Don’t even get me started on LCM’s (30% sugar) and their schoolyard commercials.

The problem is not that Bindi (or anyone else) is advertising cake mix. No-one is in danger of being fooled into believing chocolate cake is health food. The real problem is that food that should be clearly labelled as “high sugar confectionary — use extreme discretion when feeding to children” is being marketed as the equivalent of broccoli “but fun”.

Why aren’t the hard questions being asked by the people who have the kind of firepower that gets column inches about chocolate cake? Why are nutritionists silent or complicit? These are the questions that need answering. Let’s leave spats about whether Bindi should have plaits or a pony tail to the school yard where it belongs.

David Gillespie is a lawyer and author of “Sweet Poison, why sugar makes us fat”

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Peter Fray
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