In a recent report it has been stated that sugar is as dangerous as alcohol and tobacco and it goes on to state that Britain’s obesity crisis could be reversed within five years if food companies reduce sugar in products by 30%. Wow! This is an incredibly surprising statement.
For me, the obesity crisis has a great deal more to do with the lack of physical activity and regular exercise, not purely sugar intake. And I can’t help but recall the days when the first cotton candy machine came to my street. I grew up in a neighbourhood of about 15 kids and when this cotton candy machine came we used tons of sugar and obviously loved it. But when I was growing up I don’t remember seeing many obese children. It’s only now, over the last 25 years, that we have seen such dramatic increase in obesity. Why is that? We were eating our fair share of sugar when I was growing up – so sugar can’t be held completely accountable.
I go back to my point that it is not only our diets but again the lack of physical activity that is perpetuating the obesity crisis – children being driven to school and not walking or riding their bikes, after-school physical activity programmes dwindling, kids becoming addicted to their iPads and Playstations. But I have to concede that it would be a good idea to cut at least 100 calories from each person’s daily diet – and with the high content of sugar in many of today’s processed foods I have to agree that these levels must be lowered if we’re to see improvement.
Simon Capewell, a Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, states that sugar is the new tobacco and I agree with his sentiments: ‘Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focused on profit not health. The obesity epidemic is generating a huge burden of disease and death.’
It is also stated that 1 in 4 adults in England is obese and these figures are set to go up to 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children by 2050. The incidence of type 2 diabetes leading to cardiovascular disease and morbidity is going to be unmanageable unless this stops. Currently, obesity and diabetes already cost the UK £5 billion every year and experts state that it could reach £50 billion in the next 36 years. This is an astronomical rise, and should have us all very worried.
So, is taxing the food industry the right way to go or should we be focusing on education? There is a general consensus that children are the primary targets of food marketing and as a very vulnerable group, heavy marketing of sweets and sugary drinks contributes to skyrocketing childhood obesity. I am of two minds here. I am a huge advocate of public health and believe that it’s vital for public health officials to educate us in the right choices. But, I think somewhere along the line we must take responsibility for ourselves as individuals; we can’t always blame everyone else for our problems. I do feel deep down that the government has a role to play with healthy messages to deal with the ill effects of high calorie intake, but it must be a structured push from the government and ultimately the onus lies with us to take action.
I am still very happy that this report didn’t come out when I was a kid, as I’ll never forget those fantastic days when we had our own cotton candy machine.