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Doc explores dark side of sugar

By Stefania Seccia

Sugar
(Fotolia)

Sugar (Fotolia)

A new documentary set to hit a Vancouver screen this week explores the not-so-sweet side of sugar consumption, called Sugar Coated.

Michele Hozer, award-winning Canadian filmmaker, said she got the idea for the documentary after attending an Alzheimer’s convention three years ago that made links between people’s diets – including sugar intake – and its impacts on the brain.

“The idea is not to put a cross and skill bones over it, right?” she said. “Sugar is everywhere in our culture. Find a holiday that doesn’t have sugar in it.”

Sugar Coated sold out during the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, and is returning for more screenings this week.

“Everyone eats,” she said. “So everyone’s really, really interested and also concerned about their health and there’s been a lot of talk out there in the last four years about sugar consumption and links to disease and chronic illness.”

Hozer said she obtained documents dating back to the 1970s, outlining a PR campaign that utilized tobacco-style tactics to dismiss troubling health claims against their products.

While not much cane sugar is grown in Canada, it’s still a major business, making up one third of the country’s food and manufacturing employment.

Vancouver’s cane refinery, open since 1880, can produce up to 240,000 tonnes of sugar a year – including granulated sugar, sugar cubes, icing sugar, liquid squares and soft sugars from imported raw cane sugar.

That makes up 20% of Canada’s 1.2 million tonnes produced and distributed of refined sugar annually, valued at about $800 million, according to the Canadian Sugar Institute.

Vancouver’s production is second only to Montreal’s cane refinery under the Lantic Rogers umbrella, which produces up to 440,000 tonnes.

The average Canadian teen consumes between 30 and 41 teaspoons of total sugars a day while the World Health Organization suggests an intake of up to six.

A survey of about 11,000 grade 7 to 11 students in B.C. indicated sugary drinks increased the odds of obesity more than other foods – such as pizza, French fries, and candy – according to a study published last year by the McCreary Centre.

In the last 30 years, sugar consumption has increased globally by 46%, according to Hozer.

“Part of me doesn’t blame the food or sugar industry, they’re there to make money,” she said. “I think we need to look at the government to set taxation, to set limits, so that the food industry adheres to it.”

Sugar Coated is playing at The Cinematheque May 15 to 19.

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