What is sugar doing to our health? What is being done about it on an advocacy and policy level? What can you do on a personal level to live a low-sugar life?
This was a very interesting panel discussion organised by the Sandro Demaio Foundation in Northcote and MC’d by Natalie Molino the Executive Director.
Naomi and I went along and this is what we got from the discussion.
Matthew Hopcraft Australian Dental Association
Matt is a dental public health expert with over 20 years experience in teaching, research and clinical practice. He has worked as a dental officer in the Australian Army, and in public and private dental practice, before pursuing an academic career, teaching dental public health and general practice dentistry at Melbourne University where he was the Director of Clinical Education. Matt is currently the CEO of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch, having previously served as President of the Victorian Branch and on Federal Council. In 2015 he appeared as a contestant on MasterChef Australia, finishing 6th. He then co-founded SugarFree Smiles to advocate for improved oral health through healthy eating.
Tania Sincock Sugar By Half
Tania is SugarByHalf’s Campaign Director. She is an experienced campaigner and not-for-profit leader specialising in movement building, strategic communications and online advocacy. Becoming a mother has opened her eyes to the challenges parents face in raising healthy kids, particularly when our environment and culture is abundant with sugar and processed foods.
Jess Gardner Youth Food Movement
Jess is the co-leader with the Youth Food Movement Melbourne Chapter. She is currently studying a Master of Science (Bioscience), with a research project in horticultural plant science, specifically staple native food plants. Jess has a deep passion for food, food systems, science and working with young people. She also has a personal interest in nutrition and health, especially around food, cooking and agriculture.
What is sugar doing to our health?
Sugar = tooth decay – unequivocally! Yet the government isn’t taking up the cudgels for reducing sugar intake.
Fizzy drinks are a major problem, not just because of the quantity of sugar in them but because they are also acidic.
There are 63 spoons of sugar in a bottle of tomato sauce!
1 glass of orange juice = 1 glass of coca cola in terms of sugar content
People are so used to bread, savouries and even vegetables tasting sweet, that we need to reset our tastes to expect less sweetness.
The very action of eating has been altered by fast foods, they require less chewing which sends the body different messages about how hungry we are.
Children are targeted in advertising by fast food, fizzy drink and sweets companies, especially online eg. YouTube and computer games.
We have been breeding fruit and vegetables to be sweeter and sweeter because they sell better. They have much more sugar in them than 50 years ago. (But keep eating your vegetables!)
There has been such an increase in the sugar content in fruit over the years that the Melbourne Zoo is not giving fruit to the animals any more.
The current generation is not expected to outlive their parents. Obesity rates and the diseases that come from being obese, like diabetes 2, heart and blood pressure problems, and some cancers, are rapidly increasing.
What is being done about it on an advocacy and policy level?
We need good information. One important campaign is to let people know what sugar is in things by clear labelling that is:
- easy to find (on the front of products),
- easy to understand (spoons of sugar pictured)
- easy to read (ingredient panels showing total sugars and realistic serving sizes)
- warnings on high sugar foods.
Sugar Tax: This is a tax on sweet drinks. Places around the world have brought this in with good results: reducing sugar consumption by 10%. A higher tax on sweeter drinks encourages the manufacturers to add less sugar (so they can pay less tax). The money raised can be used for information campaigns and programs to help people eat well.
There would need to be a government program to assist sugar farmers to transition to other produce. But 85% of sugar produced in Australia is exported, not used in our local industries, so it isn’t too big a hurdle.
Make unhealthy food less prominent in supermarkets and other shops (not right at the front by the registers!) – make it an occasional treat, not an everyday thing.
Bring back Home Economics (a compulsory secondary school subject that can teach children about food: shopping, preparation and cooking, as well as nutrition and reading labels and seeing through the advertising tricks.) Teach children how to make food easily, without complex equipment and skills – with positive reinforcement – making it fun. Help them take control of their diet. Without Home Economics the graduates of Secondary School don’t have survival skills and are most at risk with poor diets.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines need updating to give more information.
Currently we are just tinkering around the edges of the problem, we need serious/significant regulation. We need to get the government on board. This is a David and Goliath issue because the big industries, that rely on sugar to make their products cheap and enticing, are putting up a big fight. They are very rich and powerful. In fact this is like the fight we have had with the tobacco industry over smoking.
We need to get the information and advice out in an engaging way. The Chaser’s “War on Waste” did this effectively, we need to be creative too.
What you can do on a personal level to live a low-sugar life?
Drink water. We need free drinking water readily available everywhere.
Avoid highly processed and nutrient-poor products: they are generally high in sugar.
Work at retraining our palates to enjoy food that isn’t overly sweet.
Swap high sugar products for alternatives with less sugar (examples: http://www.sugarbyhalf.com/breakfast)
Work out how to read labels! Get to know the tricks the companies use to deceive us, and then avoid them.
Watch the “Ask The Doctor” program on Sugar – available on ABC iView.
Just to finish, there will be more panel discussions coming up every couple of months. They are free! Great initiative, thanks SandroDemaio Foundation! I’ll let you know when the next one is on.