Sugary food marketing is predatory and needs to be reined in – The Canberra Times

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What do my patients have to do with what our kids eat and drink?
Well, during my long career as an eye surgeon, I’ve seen thousands of patients with type 2 diabetes. One of the tragic effects of this disease is damage to the retina of our eyes, a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. Undetected or untreated, it can cause blindness. There are more than 100,000 Aussies who have sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy.
People who started out as healthy young kids can end up on our operating tables in their 40s, 50s, or even earlier, trying to save their sight. Many of them also suffer other complications of type 2 diabetes, such as losing limbs to gangrene, over 4,000 each year in Australia.
This is the long-term reality of our society’s addiction to sugar – and it all starts with our kids.
Today’s kids can’t escape sugar. It’s all around them, from supermarket checkouts designed to maximise pester power, to adds buried deep in their computer games.
There are more than 60 different names for sugar on food labels, making them hard to understand or detect. Sorghum syrup anyone?
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to end up befuddled by the sugary drink and processed food industry’s predatory marketing tactics. There are more than 60 different names for sugar on food labels, making them hard to understand or detect. Sorghum syrup anyone?
Big Food has also funded an ocean of junk science to reassure us their ultra-processed products are safe to consume. Would you trust a study funded by Coca Cola that revealed soft drinks don’t cause obesity?
Reputable studies show that sugar’s effects on our kids is terrible. Children too young to start school are having rotten teeth removed. One in four of our 2-17 year-olds are now overweight or obese, worsening problems from asthma to anxiety. Younger and younger children are being diagnosed with traditionally adult issues like heart disease and high blood pressure. Too much added sugar and the resulting obesity is also associated with poor academic performance, sleep disturbances and lower quality of life.
To protect our kids’ health, we need major changes. That means honest, easy to understand labelling, dietary guidelines based on real science, and restrictions on marketing junk food to kids.
But until we achieve these regulations, we must also educate our kids to be sugar smart. That’s why I’m backing Sugar Smart Week from August 22-28.
SugarByHalf, the charity behind Sugar Smart Week, has worked with online education leaders Cool Australia to develop free downloadable lessons across all sorts of subjects, such as maths, English and science, to help kids of different ages be sugar smart.
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If teachers and parents can show our kids how to spot added sugar and reduce their consumption, the health benefits over a lifetime will be huge. Even a simple swap, like replacing a daily 600ml bottle of soft drink with water, could save the consumption of more than 23 kilos of sugar per kid every year.

Short term, this means improved mental health, better sleep, and finding learning easier in the classroom. Long term, it means reduced risk of lifestyle illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and stroke.
I urge all parents and teachers to check out the Sugar Smart resources at www.coolaustralia.org/sugar-by-half and help our kids lead the long, healthy lives they deserve.
There’s nothing sweeter than good health.

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