Once again sugar is making the headlines, as Public Health England called for a co-ordinated approach to reducing the nation’s sugar intake. The Children’s Food Trust’s Dr Patricia Mucavele believes this is the only way to tackle this national problem.
I genuinely believe that in order to truly tackle our nation’s over indulgence in sugar we need a really joined up approach that goes beyond the usual talk and rhetoric. As a country we need a real commitment to this challenge, from manufacturers and distributors to government and public health experts as well as campaigners and communities. We all have our part to play in making these changes happen.
We need to consider why leisure centres full of sports equipment have vending machines selling fizzy drinks and chocolate, how adverts for sweets, fizzy drinks and fast food are allowed to be shown at cinemas with films aimed primarily at children. We need to ask why some supermarkets continue to sell sweets at the checkout or whether there should be greater taxation on sugary food and drink.
If we want to do more than pay lip service to the idea of reducing obesity then it must not just ask some of these questions but be willing to take some big steps in answering them.
One such step would be to make drinking water much more accessible, the government should be using some of the money they receive as taxes on sugary foods and drinks to fund drinking water fountains in public places. This would mean people having an easily accessible free, healthy alternative to buying sugary drinks.
This investment in amenities by government can already be seen in other areas where outside gyms have been installed in public parks and free running clubs allowing everyone the opportunity to make healthy lifestyle choices.
The critics will say, increasing taxes, banning sales and restricting the advertising and marketing of sugary products is creating a ‘nanny state.’ We all have an individual responsibility to improve our health there are steps the industry can take to make these personal decisions easier. Whether that’s making healthy options more available, restricting sales or creating a code of practice for the marketing of sugary products, when you see the statistics you see why it’s so important:
- Children of all ages and adults eat too much sugar – intakes are highest amongst teenagers, who generally consume 50% more sugar than is recommended.
- one in five children aged 4-5 years and one in three children aged 10-11 years are categorised as obese or overweight
- one third of five year-olds in England in 2012 had tooth decay
What we are doing is not only giving our children health problems from an early age but setting them on course for a life time of serious illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
There’s also no magic bullet that will solve all our sugar problems – the challenge ahead is certainly a big job and the changes needed shouldn’t be underestimated. That said there are some simple steps we can all take to reduce our own sugar intake and improve our health and that of our children.
I know it’s not always easy to make these changes, whether it’s cutting down on the amount of salt, sugar or fatty foods we eat it can be a real challenge. But there are some small steps we can all make to improve our health.
Four top tips to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet are:
- swap sugary drinks to water or lower-fat milk
- swap sugary snacks such as biscuits and cakes for a piece of fruit
- swap sugary breakfast cereals to plain wholegrain options
- check food labels and choose products that are ‘low’ or ‘medium’ in sugar.
Of course if you’re cooking at home it’s even easier to reduce the amount of sugar you use, there are lots of low sugar, salt and fat recipes at www.letsgetcookingathome.org.uk for you to try.
There is also some great advice about reducing the amount of sugar in your family’s diet at http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/actiononsugar and http://www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/low-sugar-healthy-snacks.aspx