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Friday, 1 November 2013

The fight against sugar

An avalanche of articles have appeared recently proposing higher taxes on food stuffs rich in high glycaemic index sugars. The mayor of New York tried to ban the purchase of large fizzy drinks in a desperate measure to address the growing obesity crisis.

Banning and taxing never actually get to the root of the problem. If they did, there would surely be no smokers left because the price of tobacco is now prohibitive. But not prohibitive enough to address the addiction which drives the habit. This remains the true challenge. Only through effective education will this and similar problems such as addictions to alcohol, tobacco and drugs be properly addressed. I have long advocated a minimum 50p per unit charge on alcohol in the UK simply because such a price structure will have a negligible impact on anyone drinking within national guideline limits. What it will do is to make a drinking habit harder for those whose lives are blighted by alcohol. I'm aware of the counter arguments. People will start to brew and distill their own alcohol. For those who are addicted, this may very well happen but the real issue is education.

The education has to adopt a two pronged approach. We first need to engage with pre-school children in nurseries and pre-school through teachers, nursery nurses and health visitors. Odd as it may seem, we need to be getting the message across early about the dangers of poor diets stacked high in sugary carbohydrates. Sugar is every bit as addictive as alcohol, tobacco and the rest but is always given more of a wide berth for reasons which I don't fully understand. It rots teeth. It is a well trodden path to diabetes in later life. It opens the door to obesity and all the health impacts which go with that. Yet if you go to your local supermarket today, you will doubtless see mounds and mounds of tins of chocolates on sale for the Christmas market. Today is November 1st so you have to wonder about the cynicism of such a tactic by the retailers. With proper education, the majority of people can make an informed choice about the wisdom of buying in to this trap.

Certainly education will cost money to put in to place but it will be money well spent rather than just taxing something for the sake of it with no concrete plan to address the real cause and effect of the problem. If this government is as serious about the NHS as they say they are, the implementation of a national education strategy shouldn't even be optional. That strategy though has to engage with the parents of young children if it is to achieve success. Schools should be on hand to continue the good work which has first been achieved in the home. It is therefore the parents who have the biggest role to play. If the parents themselves are already hooked in to a high sugar diet, this presents another challenge. The only way to address this is with effective public information programmes plastered throughout libraries, sports centres and yes, supermarkets and shops. Tobacco packets and alcohol come with a health warning so sugar should be treated in the same way. This is a price which we simply can't afford not to pay. People talk of health time bombs but this clock is well and truly ticking....