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Dr Bob's blog - be sugar smart

User AvatarPosted by Amanda Crawford at 18/02/2016 12:21:06
Dr Bob Bowes

I hope you have already seen news about the Sugar Smart campaign. This is the drive to encourage parents to take control of their children’s sugar intake. Run by the national campaign Change4Life, it has some striking statistics.

Astonishingly, four to 10-year-olds consume the weight of an average five-year-old in sugar - almost three and a half stone - every year. That is more than three times the recommended amount for their age group.

You might think sweets and biscuits would be the worst culprits. But actually, top of the list are soft drinks and fruit juice, which contribute 30 per cent of the average child’s sugar intake.

Biscuits, cakes and breakfast cereals are almost level pegging, at 29 per cent. Then come sweets, chocolate, table sugar, jams and other sweet spreads (22 per cent) and yoghurts, fromage frais, ice-cream, and other dairy desserts (12 per cent).

Teenagers, like younger children, get 15 per cent of their calories from sugar. In adults there is a small drop, to 12 per cent – but considering the recommendation is that everyone over the age of two should get no more than five per cent of their total calories from sugar, this is still far too high.

I chair the West Kent Health and Wellbeing Board which brings together NHS and local authority colleagues to take important decisions on health for west Kent. 

We are so concerned about obesity in this area, and the awful risks this poses for people, that all of us – the clinical commissioning group, district and borough councils, colleagues from Kent County Council which is leading the campaign locally, NHS England and Healthwatch Kent - are doing everything we can to support the Sugar Smart campaign. 

From next month, Kent County Council is running an advertising campaign in various areas across Kent where childhood obesity tends to be higher, which will be supported by communications from the other members of the local Health and Wellbeing Board.

As I mentioned in my last column, in west Kent about one in five children in the first year of primary school (aged four or five) and nearly one in three in the last year of primary school (aged 10 or 11) are either overweight or obese. 

That makes them more likely to become obese adults, who will be at increased risk of a range of serious health problems. 

Yet in the GP practice where I work, I see just as many parents bringing their children in because they are worried about them being underweight as overweight. The concerns about children weighing too little are almost always wrong: parents just don’t realise that you should be able to see a child’s ribs. We are starting to lose our ability to know what normal looks like.

Worryingly, children don’t need to be overweight to experience the ill-effects of too much sugar.

They might seem fine on the outside but too much sugar can lead to the build-up of harmful fat on the inside that we can’t see. This fat around their vital organs can cause serious diseases in the future such as heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.  

That’s without going into the awful impact on children’s teeth of excessive sugar. The commonest reason for children aged five to nine to be admitted to hospital is to have their teeth removed.

I hope that if you are the parent or grandparent of a young child, you will download the free Change4Life Sugar Smart app which allows you to see how much sugar there is in everyday food and drink. You can scan the barcode of products to find out how much sugar they contain. Just search for it in the App Store or on Google Play.

Both the app and the Change4Life website have lots of good ideas and tips on reducing sugar for all the family.

Of course, although the focus is on the very young, cutting down on sugar is very important for the rest of us too.

Different things work for different people but anyone who would like support to achieve a healthy weight and become more physically active can contact the teams for their area:

•Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s Healthy Living Co-ordinator on 01732 876347 or at healthy.living@tmbc.gov.uk  

•Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s health team on 01892 554201 or at health@tunbridgewells.gov.uk

•Sevenoaks District Council’s health team on 01732 227000 or at healthy.living@sevenoaks.gov.uk

•Maidstone Borough Council’s Healthy Living Team on 01622 602222 or at healthyliving@maidstone.gov.uk or www.maidstone.gov.uk/healthyliving

If you have a story about local healthcare services you would like to share, you can email westkent.ccg@nhs.net or write to me, Dr Bob Bowes, at NHS West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group, Wharf House, Medway Wharf Road, Tonbridge TN9 1RE.