As we all want our kids to be fit and healthy, it’s maybe time to think about all the hidden sugars in our food and drink… and time to retrain your kids’ taste buds.
Dr Sally Norton, NHS Weight Loss Surgeon & Consultant & Founder of www.Vavista.com, gives yummy readers some of her advice.
Today is being dubbed ‘Sugar Thursday’ as two major reports are due to published about the not-so-sweet substance that is hitting the headlines on a daily basis now.
In addition, at a major scientific meeting yesterday, it was recommended that juice and fizzy drinks are banned from the dinner table in favour of good old milk and water – front page news today.
As I mentioned in my review on childhood obesity and at pretty much every other opportunity I get to rant about this UK epidemic, we have all been waiting for the realisation of a tax on sugary drinks as recommended by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AOMRC) over a year ago and also by the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, back in March.
An unconfirmed leaked preview of one of the reports that are due for release today will supposedly recommend that this is just one of six key steps that could be taken in the UK, to reduce the huge impact that sugar is having on our weight and health as a nation – yet apparently no definitive action is on the cards:
1. A tax on sugary drinks
2. Foods being reformulated to contain less sugar
3. A cut in portion size
4. Advertising rules being tightened
5. Health warnings on sugary products
6. Encouraging farmers to grow fruit and vegetables instead of sugar beet.
But would a tax on sugary drinks work in reality? It is always difficult to know, as trying to change behaviour by increasing taxes can have unanticipated effects that must be carefully evaluated. On that note, a health economics study from Australia and the UK has just been published and predicts such a tax on sugary carbonated drinks, cordials and fruit juices could lead to weight losses of over ½ stone in people who drink a lot of the sugary stuff. Hard to dismiss, though the sugar industry will, no doubt, try to.
More and more evidence is mounting that fizzy drinks are doing nothing to help the weight and health issues of our children – not to mention our own. Yet, in California 62% of adolescents ages 12-17 and 41% of children ages 2-11 drink at least one fizzy drink or other sweetened beverage every day, while in the UK we aren’t too far behind. We need to do something – and a pilot study testing the effectiveness of taxation is surely worth a try?
How about foods being reformulated to contain less sugar? Another big YES from me. However, it has to be done in the right way, else we could end up with the same scenario as those dreadful ‘low-fat’ diet products that cut the fat, yet simply increase sugar and other nasties to maintain some taste.
If we gradually reduce the sugar in our foods to retrain our taste buds to expect less (as was successfully done with salt) then we are on to something. However, I suspect that manufacturers will simply add more and more artificial sweeteners (or even so-called ‘natural sugar alternatives’ that may be no better than sugar itself!) and these will do nothing to reduce our sweet tooth. In addition, as you can read in my previous review on artificial sweeteners, they may have problems of their own (particularly in increasing quantities) and may not even help with weight-loss anyway!
Overly large portion sizes are a big bug-bear of mine. Those huge high-cal cakes in my hospital’s Costa outlet upset me every time I grab a coffee! Let’s tackle those crazy sized servings, as well as provide clear health warnings about the sugar content in foods, as obesity is right up there with tobacco as a health issue – so why shouldn’t high-sugar foods carry the same level of health warnings to consumers?
Whilst we are drawing parallels with tobacco why not more control on advertising? Again the AOMRC recommendation to ban advertising foods high in saturated fats, sugar and salt before 9pm and on ‘on demand’ services has not happened, despite further calls to introduce such regulations.
We don’t need those temptations in our face every time we switch on the TV – and our kids may be even more vulnerable. A study of food advertising in 13 countries across 5 continents found that a child who was watching 2 hours of television per day may see 28-84 food advertisements per week – food with high energy density and poor nutritional value. That has got to be affecting their food choices, either sub-consciously or in the foods they actively seek out.
Another whole-hearted YES from me goes to the recommendation that encourages an increase in the quota of fruit and veg that is grown here in the UK, meaning we can all up our intake of vegetables, in particular, without shipping them from miles away. We want to support our UK farmers who are providing us with proper healthy food on a shoestring and are the unsung heroes. They need to be brought centre-stage in the campaign against obesity.
We reported on the recent study that showed the benefits you can get from 7 or even 10 portions a day but the advice was that you should eat more portions of veg than fruit. That is because fruit can be very high in sugar, namely fructose. Whilst packaged with fibre, which reduces the impact of the sugar, it is sugar nonetheless, and should be included in your overall daily sugar calculations.
So, let’s hope these reports will lead to some definitive action. Follow me on Twitter, @DrSally_Vavista, as I continue to campaign to get these recommendations implemented and the UK population reducing the amount of sugar they consume .