Matthew Lloyd, Dentist and Clinical Director at WhiteWash Laboratories
Once upon a time, smoking was considered the epitome of cool and lighting up indoors was the norm. But, as the health risks of tobacco become better understood, the number of smokers in the UK has fallen to an all-time low. So, could consuming too much sugar hold the same stigma in the future as smoking does now?
Leading public health experts would certainly like to think so. With recent initiatives, such as a ban on cigarettes from shop displays, having an impact, health chiefs have turned their attention to sugar.
A series of television advertisements from public health initiative Change4Life is being broadcast with a message about cutting down the amount of sugar in children’s diets. An animated modelling clay family shows how swapping fizzy drinks for water or eating low-sugar yoghurt instead of ice-cream can make a huge impact on sugar consumption. And, while food containing a high percentage of sugar isn’t hidden from view in the same way cigarettes are, some of the country’s major supermarkets, including Tesco and Lidl, have removed sweets and chocolates from check-outs to make it easier for parents to make healthy eating choices for their children.
When you consider the effects of obesity, it’s hardly surprising that the public health drive has stepped up a notch. NHS chief executive Simon Stevens told the Public Health England annual conference:
“Obesity is the new smoking. It represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs. “If, as a nation, we keep piling on the pounds around the waistline, we’ll be piling on the pounds in terms of future taxes needed just to keep the NHS afloat.”
As well, of course, as the negative impact on the waistlines of a nation, too much sugar can have a very detrimental effect on our teeth. Sugar causes decay because the bacteria in your mouth use it as an energy source and acid is formed as a by-product of this, which can lead to cavities. Once enamel becomes eroded, teeth lose their natural protection and are more prone to staining.
According to statistics for the last financial year, almost 26,000 primary school children were treated for tooth decay, making it the most common reason youngsters were admitted to hospital during 2013/14. In the worst cases, dentists reported having to remove all 20 of some children’s baby teeth. Graham Barnby, honorary vice-president of the British Dental Health Foundation said the issue was caused by the “consumption of sugary, fizzy drinks.”
Television presenter Davina McCall has also thrust the amount of sugar we eat into the limelight by cutting refined sugar from her diet. Davina, who fronts shows including The Jump and Long Lost Family, revealed she had been “horrifically addicted” to sugar but started a sugar-free diet when her sister was advised to reduce her own intake following a cancer diagnosis. Sadly, her sister lost her cancer battle, but Davina has continued to pursue a healthier food philosophy.
“The benefits of cutting out sugar are ridiculous,” she said in an interview earlier this year.
Perhaps then, in the future, those who drink fizzy drinks or eat sugary snacks will find themselves on the receiving end of the same sort of social stigma as smokers experience now.