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Is the UK addicted to sugar?


The UK has got a serious problem with obesity. By 2050, the Government estimates that more than 35 per cent of boys and 20 per cent of girls aged six to ten are expected to be obese – a grim prediction highlighting fears that children are getting into bad habits at a very early age.

Obesity isn’t just a problem when it comes to the individuals themselves and the impact on their health and lifestyle – it’s also a wider problem for society, landing a £6 billion-plus bill on the door of the NHS to cope with all of the health-related issues it brings.

The Government thinks that the nation’s sugar intake is a big part of this problem. Described as being eight times more addictive than cocaine by one study, sugar has a habit of sending us on a rollercoaster ride – with sudden boosts of energy followed by lulls in which we crave more. It can be a slippery slope.

For some, sugar is ‘the new tobacco’ given its addictive qualities and potential ill effects. It’s fairly easy to consume plenty of sugar too. One recent study showed how just one can of a fizzy drink can contain more than one day’s recommended daily intake of sugar - with up to 12 teaspoons of sugar in some drinks, and more than half of the fizzy drinks in the UK exceeding the 30g daily recommended intake.

As a result, the Government is introducing a ‘sugar tax’ – a controversial measure that aims to tax drinks with the highest sugar content. It has been controversial because campaigners feel it doesn’t go far enough and the industry thinks the opposite. It’s a difficult balancing act and only time will tell if the measure has any impact.

But, why is it deemed necessary? Are we really a nation of sugar addicts? The statistics for this are as damning as those for obesity above.

The average five year old consumes the equivalent of their body weight in sugar over the course of a year, while Public Health England estimates that between 12 and 15 per cent of our energy comes from sugar – far above the five per cent that we really should stick to to avoid health problems. Our sweet tooth really is leading us astray.

The problem is that sugary food and drinks are popular – partly because of their moreish nature – and that some sugar is an important part in a balanced diet. The sugar tax – indeed just the threat of the sugar tax – has encouraged some drinks producers to reduce the amount in their products but there is only so much that the industry or the Government can do.

When push comes to shove it will rely on individuals to change their habits. It’s not impossible of course – this ‘How to kill your sugar cravings’ guide shows some simple ways to cut down – but it relies on willpower. There’s a lot of education work needed to encourage people to change their ways and that must go hand in hand with any taxation.

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