Sugar. It is definitely not good for you, but a controversial report released by Public Health England suggests that it may be the cause of the excessive and life-threatening rise in obesity witnessed over the past 30 years.

Following on from Part 1, explore our Experts thoughts on the role and responsibility of advertising and so-called ‘health’ foods . They also offer practical advice on how to curb the obesity epidemics, and the responsibility we all have to ensure a healthy future for our communities.

The ‘Healthy’ foods that aren’t

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Carolina:

“Even ‘healthy’ foods aren’t as virtuous as they initially appear.  Look at the ingredients of health bars or even the non-dairy milks and gluten-free products in the supermarket.  Most contain sugar as one of their main ingredients in one of its many healthy sounding guises, like rice syrup or dates. Juice bars peddle fruit juice high in sugar.  Huge energy fluctuations contribute to mood swings, PMS, low energy and poor sleep.  The list goes on.

The Food and Drink Federation in the UK argues that sugar is a form of carbohydrate and thus essential to our diet.  A study published this month in which children had sugar in their diets replaced with starch and no calorific difference at all, demonstrated improvements in fasting blood sugar and fat levels.

This is not an ideal study to say the least – in my opinion starchy carbs should be limited in the diet but it’s clear that sugar is toxic and should be limited. ”

Sinead:

“With the recent interest in healthier food options, many large food companies have now tapped into this market where they promote and sell many ‘health’ bars that are in fact higher in sugar than most typical chocolate bars or traditional sweets.

The ingredients used range from inverted glucose syrup to glucose fructose syrup so these healthier options are in fact a far cry from what those who work in the healthcare industry would agree upon.

Sugar & advertising

Sinead:

“In a world where we are seeing more and more lifestyle diseases such as diabetes type 2 in young children, now is the time to make a difference in the way these foods are so readily accessible and advertised.

Changes in how these foods are marketed and sold so cheaply to families will need to be assessed, along with looking at how changes to ingredients can be made.”

Carolina:

A 2 year old child in America has recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and experts have deduced that her condition is a result of poor diet and lack of exercise.  The child in question saw a noticeable improvement when dietary changes were implemented and she increased exercise. She also lost a significant amount of weight.

Advertising targets young children and a tax of 10-20% on sugar drinks would make families think a little more carefully about what they buy, but the education part still needs to happen.

sugar tax watchfit 3Advice & final thoughts

Julie:

“Whilst a sugar tax is not the sole answer to solving the worldwide obesity epidemic, a tax could certainly act as a deterrent to those that consume sugary drinks regularly. The tax itself could be well spent on tackling childhood obesity through education and increasing participation in sport.”

 Sinead:

“Of course we need to start educating parents right from the very beginning on selecting whole nutritious foods that will provide a balanced diet, and we need to address how “healthy” foods are marketed – as well as increasing awareness and visibility about ingredients.

However, this will not be a quick resolution as obesity levels are now reaching crisis levels, however we can start making the changes for ourselves today through educating ourselves on the nutritional value of foods and on how to read food labels.  The best education you can give to yourself and your child is on how to choose, select and cook healthier meals and make the right food choices.”

Carolina:

It’s time to take action:

People do not have the health education to reduce childhood obesity on their own. We are not aware of what is in our food, we aren’t given the education required from a young age about what to eat, what quantities to eat it in, and what to avoid. We’re also told nothing about the dangers of processed food, and in the rush to ensure our children want for nothing, treats and sweets are always at hand. My home economics classes at schools were wasted hours of baking cakes and pizzas: I was never told why a frozen pizza full of preservatives and flavourings would be much worse for me than a fresh pizza made with organic ingredients.

In early 2014, the Action on Sugar initiative launched Britain and the US with the objective of pressurizing the government to cut the sugar content of food and drink by up to 30%.  

This is apparently happening stealthily, in such a way as people do not notice, but I am not convinced.  I see a lot of blood test results and a lot of people with chronic diseases caused mostly by poor diet and lifestyle factors.  I see enormous improvements when we work on these.  A sugar tax cannot come soon enough. I recommend That Sugar Film as essential viewing: it demonstrates how sugar is included even in foods that are pitched as a healthy alternative, and the harmful effects this can have on a person.”

Polly:

Should we all be sugar-free for life? I think that’s an equally ridiculous notion. Sugar has its place – in sports nutrition in more advanced athletes, at birthday parties, ice cream on the beach. When it comes to sugary drinks, it’s clearly so simple to create sugar free versions that surely it’s a no-brainer. I’m not saying artificial sweeteners are great either, but on balance I personally think they’re the better of two evils.

Balance, and discouraging people to consume unhealthy, sugar-laden products, can only help.

Thank you to our Experts for their time and knowledgeable opinions. When it comes down to it, the choice is ultimately that of the consumer – regardless of whether or not regulatory bodies become involved. Until then it is our responsibility to ensure we live healthy, balanced and sustainable lifestyles – as well as encourage future generations to do so. 

Discover our Experts other articles here:

– Expert Polly Hale
– Expert Carolina Brooks
– Expert Julie Meek
– Expert Sinead Loughnane

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