Tell your Health Minister to stand up to food companies on sugar
A Four Corners investigation has exposed the food and beverage industry’s influence on Australia’s health policies.
The findings were startling. Food and beverage companies are using tactics employed by the tobacco industry – they delay action on health initiatives, they make large political donations and they obfuscate the truth.
It means that simple changes to food labels, such as the labelling of added sugar, get knocked back time and time again, and the outcome is that Australians can’t follow leading health advice to reduce their added sugar intake.
But thanks to programs like Four Corners, decision makers will be sitting up and listening. Write to your Health Minister to make sure they don’t further delay action on sugar.
High or frequent consumption of added sugars, particularly in infants and young children, is associated with increased risk of dental cavities.
How does this happen? Sugars provide food for the bacteria that dissolve tooth enamel and as sugar consumption increases, so do cavities. This damage is irreparable; the tooth cannot repair itself and individuals are left with life-long problems which require fillings, root canal work or extractions.
There is a growing problem with increasing rates of tooth decay, especially among children. One third of Australian children have experienced tooth decay in their baby teeth by the age of 6, increasing to 46% of children by the age of 10.
It isn’t cheap either. In 2015, expenditure on dental services was $9.9 billion, with more than $5.7 billion paid directly by Australians.
In October 2017, the World Health Organization produced a fact sheet highlighting the dangers of added sugar and tooth decay. They state that almost half of the world’s population is affected by dental caries (tooth decay or dental cavities), making it the most prevalent of all health conditions.
In Australia, food labels will only tell you the total sugar in a product, not the added stuff. And you can’t rely on the ingredient list because there are over 43 different names for added sugar.
It’s essential that people can easily tell the difference between foods with naturally occurring sugars, like lactose in yoghurt, and added sugars which have virtually no nutritional benefits. Currently this is almost impossible.
The World Health Organization and our Dietary Guidelines recommend we reduce our added sugar intake on the basis that overconsumption of added sugars presents serious health issues.
A CHOICE investigation found that added sugar labelling could help consumers avoid 26 teaspoons of unnecessary sugar per day – that’s up to 38 kilograms a year!
At their most recent meeting, Food Ministers renewed their commitment to improve the health of Australians. They want to help people make healthy food choices, and sugar labelling is a necessary step to achieving this.
In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a recommendation that no more than 10% of total daily energy intake should come from added sugars. So for an average adult intake of 8,700 kilojoules, this equates to 52 grams or 13 teaspoons of added sugar.
How much sugar is in your food? Try this ABC quiz.
The WHO made a further recommendation that added sugar intake be reduced to below 5% of total energy intake. This recommendation was made because added sugars increase overall energy intake and may also reduce an individual’s intake of more nutritious foods, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of non-communicable diseases.
Correspondingly, the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines advise Australians to limit their intake of foods and beverages containing added sugar, especially all sweetened drinks, sports drinks, confectionery, biscuits and cakes.
“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free [added] sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,”
– Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
Read the CHOICE report into added sugar labelling in Australia. Published April 2017.
Read the CHOICE investigation into added sugar. Published April 2017.
World Health Organization (WHO)
Guidelines and recommendations
Read the WHO sugars intake for adults and children guidelines.
Read the WHO urges global action to curtail consumption and health impacts of sugary drinks media release.
Read the WHO reducing free sugars intake in children and adults recommendations.