Pulling the sweet tooth
The WHO's move is just the latest high-level swipe at sugar. A damning discussion at a symposium on the ills of sugary drinks at the University of Auckland Medical School last month sent a now-familiar message: a spoonful of sugar might help the medicine go down, the gist of the symposium went, but it also has the potential to rot your teeth, make you fat and even trigger type 2 diabetes.
If sugar ever had a sweet reputation it's been dealt yet another blow by the World Health Organisation. The WHO is calling for the daily intake in our diets to be cut to 25g – that's about half the amount of the sweet stuff found in just one small can of soft drink.
And of course, New Zealanders don't stop at a spoonful of sugar a day – or even at the six 4.2 gram-teaspoons of sugar a day the WHO now considers quite enough. We on average consume 37 teaspoons of sugar a person each day, or more than 50 kilograms a person per year. We consume more sugar than just about any other country in the Western world.
Is that really so bad?
Dr Rob Beaglehole, principal dental officer with the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, thinks it probably is. He was a speaker at the symposium, which pushed the idea of a sugary-drink-free Pacific by 2030 and favoured a tax on syrupy drinks. Beaglehole is responsible for the health board he works for being the first and – at the time of the symposium – only one to ban sugary drinks being sold in the hospital cafe and shop. He hopes others will be shamed or inspired into following his lead.
"The Whanganui DHB may try it. It's a start and about showing leadership. Hospitals shouldn't be selling sickness."
So kids hoping to have a fluorescent fizzy fix from a cabinet in Beaglehole's domain – Nelson and Wairau hospitals – will be out of luck. But they can still bring their favourite sweet drinks with them. Indeed, to Beaglehole's dismay, even the thought of seeing the dentist doesn't stop them bringing sugary drinks into his dental surgery.
"A lot of my patients turn up with a can of Coke or V, to have a tooth out. I say that's the problem. They say, 'I'm addicted to it.' "
It horrifies Beaglehole that about 6000 New Zealand children under 12 had to have general anaesthetics last year to have teeth out because of dental decay and that in 2012, 34,000 children under 14 had one or more teeth taken out.
"Sugary drinks and sugar per se, but mainly sugary drinks, are the culprit. Sugary drinks are particularly destructive for teeth."................................