*File photo
*File photo

In 1822, the average American consumed half a teaspoon of added sugar a day. By 1960 Americans consumed about six teaspoons of added sugar a day. Today the average American takes in more than 30 teaspoons of added sugar a day and most of this is from sugary drinks.

Barry Popkin, Professor for Global Nutrition at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health, and Director of their interdisciplinary obesity programme, has been asked to consult on obesity in Russia, France, Mexico, China and Brazil. He says there is no doubt sugar sweetened beverages are to blame for the obesity epidemic as well as the rise in new cases of diabetes and heart disease.

France and the UK have banned caloric beverages in schools. Mexico has levied a tax on sweetened beverages as have many of the European countries. Professor Popkin has noted that when the price goes up, people consume less.

Dr Susan Jebb, Head of Diet and Obesity Research at Cambridge University, advocates for a tax on sugary drinks. She has advised the UK government to remove fruit juice from the recommended list of five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables. Dr Jebb says that many of these fruit juices contain as much, if not more, sugar than many sodas. “Juice is not a healthy option,” she adds. “Fruit juice is not the same as intact fruit and it has as much sugar as classical sugar drinks.” Sugar from fruit juice is absorbed fast and by the time it gets to the stomach, the body can’t tell whether it’s juice or soda. On January 19, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, representing all physicians across the UK, made the following recommendations:

• A ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm

• Further taxes on sugary drinks to increase prices by at least 20 per cent

• A reduction in fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres

• A £100m budget for
interventions

• No junk food or vending machines in hospitals, where all food must meet the same nutritional standards as in schools

• Food labels to include calorie information for children.

Half of the sugar we take in comes from sugary drinks. The other half is from catsup, salad dressings, breakfast cereals, and of course cakes, cookies and ice cream. Many yogurts and instant oatmeals contain added sugar.

The American Heart Association recommends that a woman have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day and a man no more than nine. The World Health Organization is proposing to halve this number so that women would have no more than three teaspoons of added sugar a day and a man no more than five. When an average soda contains ten teaspoons of sugar — it means — hello water and goodbye soda. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s your choice. However, as health professionals, we have a moral obligation to inform the public of health dangers. We want Bermuda to be healthy. A responsible government has the obligation to keep its citizens safe. If safety means banning sugary drinks in public places, banning fast food ads and taxing sugary drinks, then time is running out because this little island’s population is in trouble and we need to fix it fast.