Editorial: Price to pay as healthy food goes overboard

It seems extraordinary a disease that was once the scourge of long-distance sailors and explorers should rear its ugly head in a modern first world economy.

Emaciated sailors with bleeding gums, dropping teeth and bulging eyes may seem like the stuff of laudanum-induced nightmares, but this was the reality that once killed almost all of Magellan’s crew and millions more sailors in their dangerous pursuit of hidden passages and exotic wealth.

The disease, of course, is the now rarely seen scurvy.

Once prevented with practical simplicity by lime juice, the prophylactic that gave English sailors their nickname, played not a small part in the victory over Napoleon at Trafalgar and the nautical domination of that empire over half the Earth.

But back to suburban Sydney where the disease has quite worryingly been detected in a number of diabetic patients at Westmead Hospital.

One expert has put it down to lifestyle failure, not scarcity, but a "poor" modern-day diet of superabundance of the wrong things.

Professor Jenny Gunton, who heads the Diabetes Centre at that hospital, found that although patients were eating the vegetables or fruit normally associated with Vitamin C, the great preventative, they were eating insufficient quantities or cooking them too thoroughly.

"The irony is that it is possible for patients to have scurvy, even when they are overweight or obese. It highlights a danger that you can consume plenty of calories yet not receive enough nutrients," she said.

University of Sydney PhD Food Sciences expert Reetica Rekhy puts it down to the fact most Australians are not meeting World Health Organisation standards for vegetable consumption.

She found one in two Australians eat the recommended two serves of fruit daily, but only 7 per cent of adults consumed the recommended serves of vegetables.

Given Bendigo has its own very poor state of obesity and all its attendant outcomes, justification of early education and prevention and practical applications for them would seem self-obvious.

Nor can it be overstated that investment in prevention pays off tenfold in savings to an already overburdened health system but also in the general well-being of residents. 

Scurvy may be an old-fashioned enough disease but without taking even the relatively simple steps toward prevention, it may come back at a much higher cost.

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