Sugar sins: things must change to save kids’ teeth

‘There is no doubt that sugar is the villain posing the biggest threat to the health of children across the country’

It’s widely recognised that childhood levels of tooth decay, obesity and diabetes in the UK are far higher than acceptable levels. Regardless of how to approach this problem, we will always come back to how much sugar we are putting into youngsters’ bodies.

For British children, excessive sugar consumption is a serious issue that has been apparent for many years. This is reflected in numerous figures which highlight just how pressing the problem is. Today nearly one in three children aged two to fifteen are overweight or obese. There are also more than 700 children with type-2 diabetes, an increase of around 40 per cent compared with four years ago.

Sugar tax has been a good start, but it’s not enough

Focusing on oral health, a child in England has a rotten tooth removed in hospital under general anaesthetic every ten minutes. This is a heart-breaking and appalling statistic, especially considering it is almost entirely preventable.

Over the course of an average day, countless children across the UK consume well over the recommended daily sugar allowance. Recent figures from Public Health England revealed children exceed the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18 year old before they celebrate their tenth birthday.

The sugar levy, imposed last spring, has been successful in tackling the fountain of fizzy and sugary drinks wreaking havoc on the health of thousands of youngsters. Government intervention was absolutely necessary to reduce the amount of sugar going into popular soft drinks. It has also been effective in discouraging consumers from regularly purchasing unhealthy drinks in large quantities.

Another cause for concern is oversized packs of products that provide little-to-no nutritional value. Whether they are advertised as being “sharebags” or “family packs” is completely irrelevant. There is nothing stopping a person from gorging on a whole pack of chocolates or sweets and eating dangerous amounts of sugar.

This is not dissimilar to the issue of two-for-one, buy-one-get-one-free products and other promotional offers that can be found across thousands of supermarkets and corner shops around the country. These promote a culture of frequent, high-sugar consumption, which is the exact opposite habit to that children should be developing as they grow up.

It is imperative that children are taught good oral health from birth

We must continue to teach children about the importance of developing good oral hygiene at home, by brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Yet by facing a constant onslaught of sugar through the day, the damage will have been done long before they get around to picking up their toothbrush. Assuming they still have teeth to brush at the end of the day.

Dampening the appeal of these products will also be integral to reducing childhood sugar intake. In the last couple of years, the Committee of Advertising Practice has begun to clamp down on junk food advertising aimed at children. Tightening regulations for the marketing of unhealthy products should see less children beg their parents for them.

Ultimately, continuing to reduce the amount of sugar on supermarket shelves to an acceptable level is the best way of tackling the sugar crisis. Calls for further taxes on confectionery, cakes and other sugary snacks are completely warranted. Existing taxes have already resulted in many manufactures making voluntary changes to reduce the amount of sugar in their products.

For those who are unwilling to change, government intervention will be necessary. This will most likely mean an extension of the sugar levy. With the best interest of children in mind, it is something we must completely support.

There is no doubt that sugar is the villain posing the biggest threat to the health of children across the country. Putting the shackles on it must be high on our list of priorities, otherwise we will face the consequences for generations to come.