Too much sugar in our diets is a risk to oral health and obesity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that people halve their daily sugar intake as a means of combatting obesity and tooth decay, reinforcing the Australian Dietary Guidelines to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet.
“In practical terms, the WHO recommendation means that adults with a normal Body Mass Index should eat less than six teaspoons of sugar each day to avoid health risks. It’s worth noting that this limit includes all sugar added to food and beverages as well as natural sugar in things like honey, syrups and fruit juice,” explained Associate Professor Heather Yeatman, President of the Public Health Association of Australia.
“WHO estimates there are a half-a-billion people affected by obesity worldwide and that figure continues to rise.”
At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, excluding the large proportion of people with diabetes, heart disease and cancer cases attributable to being overweight. The WHO has also pointed to tooth decay as a major and very expensive health problem, with the treatment of dental disease costing up to 10% of healthcare budgets in industrialised countries.
“Reducing sugar in our diets needs a multi-pronged approach,” says A/Professor Yeatman.
“A lot of the sugar that people are eating is actually hidden in processed foods, making it hard to determine daily sugar intake. PHAA has been a strong advocate of the implementation of initiatives like the food Health Star Rating, so that people are in a better position to make judgements about the food they are purchasing and eating.
"Making our food environments healthier also is important – fewer vending machines with sugary snacks, workplace policies that offer non-sugar food options for meetings and limiting sugary drinks in schools will assist people to make healthier choices.”
A/Professor Yeatman said the PHAA welcomed the ACT Government’s ban on soft drinks in schools.
“This is an important step to help promote children’s health. A single can of sugar-sweetened soft drink contains about 40 grams - or 10 teaspoons - of sugar.
“Of course people need to take personal responsibility for their purchasing choices, but governments can adopt measures to ensure that it’s as easy as possible for them to make choices that promote healthy outcomes. After all, it’s taxpayers who have to foot the bill for escalating costs to the health system from lifestyle-related illnesses,” said A/Professor Yeatman.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines have some practical suggestions people can follow, including:
gradually reducing the sugar you add to foods and your daily coffee or tea
avoiding adding sugars to foods made at home
going for fruit instead of biscuits, cakes, muffins, chocolate or lollies
keeping a bowl of fruit handy on the bench or cool in the fridge, and
keeping a jug of chilled water in the fridge, and adding slices of lemon or mint for variety.