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Food Companies Shouldn't Be Able To Say Sweet Nothing About Added Sugars

One third of Australian children have tooth decay by the age of six.

21/11/2017 9:46 AM AEDT
MichaelSvoboda via Getty Images
"One in four children are overweight or obese."

Last week, the Australian Dental Association and Choice Australia called on Health Ministers to make a decision at their upcoming meeting coming on November 24, to ensure that food companies are required to clearly label added sugar on their products.

So far, more than 20,000 people have contacted their State or Territory Health Minister calling on them to support added sugar labelling (data collected by Choice).

This is a critical issue. The average Australian teenager consumes up to 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and one in 10 teenagers has a staggering 38 teaspoons of sugar daily. No wonder diet-related diseases are so prevalent. One third of Australian children have tooth decay by the age of six, rising to 40 percent by the age of 12-14 years, and one in four children are overweight or obese.

The problem for consumers is that there is no way for them to know how much added sugar is in the foods that they buy. The ingredient list on the packet seems like a good place to start -- the higher up the list, the more sugar it is likely to contain. But added sugar can be disguised on the label under more than 40 different names, making it hard for the consumer to decipher.

We probably all know that sugar, sucrose and glucose are sugars. But do we really know or think of honey, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, panela, maltose or rice syrup as added sugars? Furthermore, the nutrition panel doesn't distinguish added sugars from those sugars that are naturally occurring in food, such as fructose in fruit or lactose in milk.

For once, it would be nice for the Health Ministers to make a decision that favours public health rather than the food manufacturers.

It is this added sugar, over and above the naturally occurring sugar, that is causing these health problems. This was clearly identified by the World Health Organisation in their report on added sugars in 2015. They showed good evidence that reducing the amount of added sugar to less than 12 teaspoons per day reduces the risk of obesity and tooth decay, and a further reduction to less than six teaspoons per day would provide additional health benefits.

At present it is almost impossible for consumers to know whether they are exceeding these limits, because there is not sufficient information on the food labels to guide them. Eating whole real foods is the simplest way to avoid added sugar, but the reality is that people are consuming more processed food than ever before.

Right now, the food industry is winning this debate because they don't have to declare the amount of added sugar in their products, so Australian consumers are unable to make healthy choices for their families.

Naturally, industry will argue strongly against this proposed regulation, in the same way that they also oppose a sugar tax and regulations on advertising and marketing -- all measures that would improve health outcomes.

For once, it would be nice for the Health Ministers to make a decision that favours public health rather than the food manufacturers.

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