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Dulce Agonia (Sweet Agony)
Mexico has been at the forefront of the obesity epidemic and borne the crippling burden of sugar related chronic NCDs. It has also been a leader in implementing public health policy to regulate the addition and consumption of sugar. This film by Cacto Productions and El Podel Del Consumidor tells the story of Don Gonzalo,a bus driver who is diagnosed with diabetes. His story is interwoven with testimonies of patients from different parts of Mexico and commentary from national and international experts on the obesity epidemic in the country as the government introduces public health legislation to try to halt the epidemic.
Thanks to Paul Freestone, a blogger who recently saw the film for this review…..
Two films were screened but Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush was a brief 10 minute edited version of the full 2015 C4 TV documentary. The main feature was Sweet Agony: The Toll of Junk Food, and this concentrated on the catastrophic impact of junk food in Mexico. It’s now claimed that Mexicans are the fattest people on the planet; with 70% of adults and 30% of kids overweight. The main problem isn’t burgers and fries, although these do contribute to obesity. Mexico’s consumption of sugary drinks is unparalleled, with each person drinking an average of 163 litres per year. That’s almost half a litre per day, but numerous individuals are easily guzzling their way through a huge 2 litre bottle every day. There are numerous brands available, but the main culprit is Coco Cola. No social or family event in Mexico is complete without it. It has 70% of the country’s soft drinks market, and drinking it represents a status symbol. Its influence is so pernicious that it’s fairly common to see babies suckling on a bottle filled with Coke. The massive intake of Cola type drinks is directly responsible for Mexico’s diabetes epidemic, which now affects 14% of the population. In a poor country where healthcare isn’t freely available, the onset of diabetes is frequently a death sentence. The most distressing sections of Sweet Agony are the interviews with the amputees. They have lost toes, feet or entire limbs as a result of diabetes. (In Sugar Rush it was revealed that in 2015 there were 7,000 amputations owing to diabetes in the UK.)
After the screening there was an interesting Q&A with a direct Skype link to the film makers in Mexico. The documentary was produced by El Poder del Consumidor, a consumers’ rights organisation formed in 2006 (the Mexican version of Which?). They commented that the 10% sugar tax (introduced in Mexico in 2014) was definitely working. Consumption of sugary beverages has dropped by 10%, but there was huge opposition to the tax from the soft drinks and junk food lobby. Also, a clear traffic light system for food labeling had been blocked and Mexico’s current labeling was described as “a joke”. Incidentally, in Sweet Agony the “obesity expert” Dr Philip James explained how the attempt to introduce traffic light food labeling within the EU had been blocked. Dr James stated that “the food industry spent one billion Euros to ensure the traffic light system wasn’t introduced across the EU”. (The UK has voluntary traffic light labeling which has been widely adopted.)
Sweet Agony is very good, and it definitely gets its message across but it’s slightly let down by poor production values. I don’t want to be too picky about this, but after the two outstanding documentaries in the recent Green Film Festival Sweet Agony looked a bit amateurish.
If poorly educated Mexicans are the victims of cynical business practices, what about other richer parts of the world? In the UK and the US the junk food culture is firmly entrenched with booming obesity and diabetes as a result. The obvious conclusion is that levels of income, education and intelligence are almost irrelevant? Why would anybody want to drink Coca Cola when they are fully aware of the fact that it’s stuffed full of sugar? Why would any responsible parent allow their kids to consume this deadly product?
For more of Paul’s writings please check out his website below…..
Classic ‘Cool Britannia’ film by Danny Boyle. Ian Diley examines the messages this film has for anyone involved in public health and health promotion this article from Ph1.
Click Here for a link to the article
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its impact on patients with mental illness by Jonathan Webster
When Psycho was released in 1960 the US was in the middle of examining its treatment of the mentally ill. Several high profile exposés had revealed the horrendous conditions of mental institutions as well as abuse of patients, which caused a public outcry. It also came during a time where psychopharmacology was becoming increasingly widespread. The combination of these factors leads to the policy that became known as ‘deinstitutionisation’ 1. Just as those who suffered from mental illness were being integrated with the community, horror stories of mental illness began to emerge. In Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho (that Joseph Stefano’s screenplay is based on) Norman Bates was inspired by Ed Gein the then infamous so-called “Mad Butcher” who was committed to a high security mental institute in 1957, following accusations of two counts of first-degree murder and other counts of grave-robbing. He was declared sane enough to stand trial in 1968 when he was found guilty 2. When talking about Psycho, Bloch said that the terror of it came from the fact that the killer could be “the boy sitting next to you” 2. However, he is probably not. “Mental illness is a significant, albeit modest risk factor for violent behaviour,” 3 although “the absolute risk is low” 3 without concurrent substance abuse 4.
One film can only have a limited impact, and although Psycho is regarded as a modern classic over fifty years since its release 5, its real influence comes from the films it inspired. Pyscho “has had a huge influence on later movies, partly because it was so successful financially 5.” Many influential films like Friday the Thirteenth, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs and indeed the entire ‘slasher’ genre 6, grew out of Psycho and forged the link in people’s minds between mental illness and violence. This is backed up by a growing body of evidence into both mass media portrayals of mental illness and public opinions formed because of it 7.
These negative portrayals have been studied, and it has been found that “ill-informed beliefs on, for example, schizophrenia with violence can be traced directly to media accounts 8.” Wahl attempted to create some evidence for this causal link and looked at 105 undergraduate introductory psychology students and showed them a film where a man committed to a mental institute murders his wife on a day out from the hospital. His results showed the groups who were shown this film were “less sympathetic to Community Mental Health Ideology” 9, compared to the control group who were shown a murder mystery without mental illness as a theme. This finding did not change if the subjects were shown a trailer prior to watching the film explaining that this is not representative of mental illness. Coming back to cinema Wahl, citing Domino talks about cinematography in particular having been shown to have “a powerful influence on attitudes towards the mentally ill” 10 cited in 9. Wahl’s finding of the trailer contextualising the story within the broader setting of the reality of mental illness being ineffectual reiterates the finding of Hamill et al., who says that the beliefs induced by media portrayals of mental illness “can survive subsequent discrediting … particularly when examples are vivid ones 11 cited in 9.”
This has consequences for people with mental illness. “The stigmatisation of mental illness affects health care utilisation and treatment rates” 12, and if people do make it to see a doctor, the doctor may be uncomfortable talking about mental health as they have been influenced by the same media images 13 leading to a “double barrier [to treatment]” from “patient’s shame in admitting to mental illness and a physician’s reluctance to inquire about it” 12. The stigma around mental health also has a negative effect on those people who have already been diagnosed with mental illness. In a survey done by the mental health charity Mind half of the 515 respondents said that media coverage had a negative affect on their mental health, ranging from increased anxiety and depression to suicidal feelings 13.
1. Erb CM. “Have You Ever Seen the Inside of One of Those Places?”: Psycho, Foucault, and the Postwar Context of Madness. Cinema Journal, 45, Number 4, Summer 2006, pp. 45-63.
2. Leigh J. Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Easton: Harmony Press, 1995.
3. Edney DR. Mass Media and Mental Illness: A Literature Review. Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. Report number: 1, 2004.
4. Wahl O. Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
5. Steadman, H., Mulvey, E., Monahan, J., Robbins, P., Appelbaum P., Grisso, T., et al. Violence by people discharged from acute psychiatric inpatient facilities and by others in the same neighborhoods. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998. 55: 393–401.
6. British Film Institute. 39 Steps to Hitchcock | BFI | British Film Institute. http://explore.bfi.org.uk/39steps (accessed 10th Feb 2013).
7. Benbow A. Mental Illness, Stigma, and the Media. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2007; 68 (supplement 2): 31-35.
8. Byrne P. Fall and rise of the movie ‘psycho-killer’. Psychiatric Bulletin 1998, 22:174-176.
9. Wahl O., Lefkowits JY. Impact of a Television Film on Attitudes Toward Mental Illness. American Journal of Community Psychology 1989, Vol. 17, No. 4: 521-528.
10. Domino, G. Impact of the film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” on attitudes toward mental illness. Psychological and Social Psychology 1983, 39, 578-589.
11. Hamill, R., Wilson, T. D., & Nisbett, R. E. Insensitivity to sample bias: Generalizing from atypical cases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1980, 39, 578-589.
12. Allen R., Nairn RG. Media depictions of mental illness: an analysis of the use of dangerousness. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 1997; 31:375-381.
13. Philo G., Secker J., Platt S., Henderson L., McLaughlin G. and Burnside J. The impact of the mass media on public images of mental illness: media content and audience belief . Health Education Journal 1994; 53: 271-281.
14. BBC News Online: Health. (Feb. 9, 2000). “Media ‘unfairly stigmatises mental illness.’” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/health/635415.stm (accessed 17th Feb 2013)