A pharmacist's perspective on health and metabolic disease
In the paper this morning was the piece you would expect from Coca Cola in response to this week’s FIZZ* conference in Wellington.
The company states that soft drinks only account for 1.5% of the average person’s calories (no reference) and therefore “Kiwis have the right to decide that the best drink choice is for them and their families”. (Dr Gerhard Sundborn, an Epidemiologist and Biostatistian, estimates that sugary drinks contribute 20-25% of calories. I know which figures I’ll choose to believe).
However, even if the “average” person only consumes very few calories from soft drink each day, these figures are meaningless to those of us on the front line seeing the effects of excess soft drinks every day.
We see the 25 year on crutches because of his gout pain. (Quite a feat to still hang onto your 2L Cola bottle with two fingers while on crutches).
We see the children needing their baby teeth to be extracted under a general anaesthetic because their teeth are so decayed because they drink sugar sweetened drinks.
We see the 20 year old’s having all their (adult) teeth extracted because it is cheaper than having multiple root canals…..but also because they won’t give up the soft drinks long-term.
And this doesn’t include the long-term problems of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, amputations, blindness and general rotten quality of life.
Possibly one of the worst cases I have seen recently was a man known diabetes but unwell with high blood sugars. Having high blood sugars makes you thirsty. What was he quenching his thirst with? Soft drink (I forget which one). He knew he wasn’t allowed sugar because of the diabetes, but when I asked him if he knew how much sugar was in a 600mL bottle (20 fl oz) his response was “What…one of those little bottles?” He was drinking about 4 litres a day of soft drink. At about 10% sugar, that is a whopping 400g sugar per day. Once he realised that there was a 200g bag of sugar in every 2L soft drink bottle, he was asking about ways to give up the soft drinks. I sincerely hope he succeeds.
When I was growing up, as a family, we would share a 750mL bottle of soft-drink as a Friday night treat with our fish and chips. Now, that family bottle is seen as a single serve. Expectations have changed. It doesn’t help that the drinks are very cheap and very seductive, if not truly addictive for many people.
With sugar, we can see the same parallels that were there with smoking many years ago. Smoking was recognised as causing lung cancer and other lung diseases, but very little headway was made in reducing the prevalence of smoking until there were increased taxes, advertising bans, and bans on smoking in public buildings. One of the big differences though with smoking is that I can always remember there being an age limit on who could buy cigarettes.
We don’t just need taxes on sugar sweetened beverages. We need global recognition from out politicians that these are unhealthy. Yes – this may be seen as being a “Nanny State” but to paraphrase one politician from the inaugural Fizz conference …..”My job as a nanny (grandmother) is to help teach my children what is healthy or not and at times to set limits”.
With respect to sugar…..we need a nanny state.
*FIZZ stands for “Fighting Sugar in Soft Drinks (sodas)”