It’s bad news for Mary Poppins fans this week because both the Food for Thought report by the British Medical Association and the Carbohydrates and Health report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition published this week endorse the fact that the British population has been consuming far too many spoonful’s of sugar. In fact, far from helping the ‘medicine go down’ the mouths of our children, the weight of evidence shows that a higher intake of sugars-sweetened beverages increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and results in weight gain, an increase in body mass index and a greater risk of developing dental caries.
Interestingly, the study also found that children and adolescents not only consume far too many sugars-sweetened foods and drinks but that their appetite does not seem to be affected by it and as a result, they do not compensate for all of the extra calories they take in by eating less of other foods. In effect, they are consuming far too much sugar and excess calories and conversely, they are still eating too little dietary fibre to maintain good health.
Together these two reports seem to echo the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on sugar that recommend adults and children reduce their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake and this has prompted many organisations such as the British Medical Association to call for a 20% tax on sugary drinks. Although this has been met with expected resistance from the Food and Drink Federation and a reluctance from the government to resort to fiscal measures, the latest report by SACN and the increased public awareness of the damaging long-term impact sugar has on our health may mean that the call for change is finally heard.
To date, the recommendations made by SACN have been adopted with immediate effect which is a very positive move. However, the job at hand should not be underestimated and it will take much time and resources to make a real impact on the population’s diet. Reducing the consumption of free sugars while replacing it with a greater intake of carbohydrates high in dietary fibre will necessitate a complete change in the dietary habits for many families. Rather than relying on well-informed families to make healthy choices or waiting for food manufacturers to reformulate their products, regulation and fiscal measures may be more effective incentives that make a long-lasting difference in the population’s diet. It may be that the time has come for us to get a little bit more help from the ‘nanny state’ if we are truly going to halt the rise in obesity and ill health but we need to be realistic—the Government is no Mary Poppins.