Sugar is making us fatter and sicker. Yet we still don’t realise how much we’re eating. As the UK government considers imposing a tax, we look at how to cut down without missing out.
The shocking truth about our sugar habits comes out of the mouth of babies. “It is not unheard of for me to remove all 20 baby teeth from a two-year-old child,” says Claire Stevens, a consultant in paediatric dentistry. This is an extreme case – but even on a “normal” day, she can easily find she has extracted more than 100 teeth after seeing her roster of young patients. What frustrates her most is that dental decay is almost always preventable. Food industry giants peddling sugary treats may try to blame fat when it comes to obesity, but it is not fat that is rotting their teeth. Meanwhile, the latest figures show that around two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese.
“We are eating too much sugar and it is bad for our health,” summarised Public Health England’s robust report Sugar Reduction: the Evidence for Action, in October 2015. It is convinced of sugar’s link to obesity, the cost of which is £5bn a year, and expected to double over the next 25 years.
As part of the report, PHE published guidelines on sugar consumption. You might think a vanilla latte and a blueberry muffin a harmless enough breakfast; in fact, together they provide more than the total daily intake of added sugars recommended for adults – around 30g (the equivalent of around six teaspoonfuls) a day.
Last week, Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum urged action to reduce the sugar intake of children and teenagers after its study found that not only could 700,000 new cases of cancer be linked to obesity and excess weight over the next 20 years, but so could millions of cases of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. A third of children aged 10 to 11 are already above a healthy weight and once that happens, it often continues into adulthood, as the public health statistics grimly demonstrate.
(Photograph by Nick Ansell/PA)