‘One will do’ ‘Two big ones’ and ‘only half for me’ are three of the most common sentences I hear throughout the day. This white, powdery substance that they are all referring to is addictive, causes long term physical health problems and potentially leads to mental imbalances.
No, I’m not talking about any Class As. This habit-forming drug is completely legal.
I’m talking about sugar. *queue anticlimactic womp*
We are the generation that remembers the original Sunny D, blue Smarties full of E’s and school lunches with chocolate fudge pudding, before Jamie Oliver went on his health crusade. As kids, we couldn’t get enough of the stuff, the rush, the excitement and oh god, the sweetness. We were like crackheads with it. Always waiting for the next hit.
And yet, as we got older, we began to appreciate that it can have severe consequences for our physical health. From rotting teeth, to speeding up ageing, causing Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease and, according to Action on Sugar, fuelling the obesity epidemic.
I mean, the figures surrounding obesity demonstrate it is a growing crisis, an NHS report from March 2017 concluded:
- In 2015, 58% of women and 68% of men were overweight or obese. Obesity prevalence increased from 15% in 1993 to 27% in 2015.
- In 2015/16, over 1 in 5 children in Reception, and over 1 in 3 children in Year 6 were measured as obese or overweight.
And when you look at our sugar consumption, the average Brit consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week, it is clear it is one of the culprits of the problem. The amount of sugar in our drinks alone makes these figures hardly surprising. A child’s hot chocolate from Starbucks, only 236ml in size, has 20g of sugar! To add some context, a child of six is only meant to have 19g a day, seven to ten year olds 24g and 30g for those above 11. Is it that shocking that we are having an obesity crisis when kids are pumped full of the stuff?
And what is being done about it?
On 15th January Newsnight concluded that the government has moved from a war on fats, which hit us in our childhood years, to a war on sugars to combat child obesity. Indeed, due to mounting public pressure, the government is introducing their Soft Drinks Industry Levy from April this year. Essentially, if a drink (fruit and milk drinks excluded) has 5g of sugar per 100ml a company is charged 18p per litre, and 24p if it has more than 8g. This will raise £520 million in taxes, which will be spent sponsoring sports in primary schools. Tax levies have been incurred on fizzy drinks in other countries, for example, Mexico, and have yielded success. In the case of Mexico, sales fell by 12% in the first year.
Companies reactions to this have been, unsurprisingly, mixed. Scotland’s national drink, Irn-Bru has had its sugar content reduced by 50% in order for the makers, AG Barr, to avoid paying the levy or upping their prices. By contrast, Coca-Cola has refused to reduce its sugar content. The Telegraph even found the company had threatened to reduce investment in the UK when the bill was proposed. Instead, as the below diagram demonstrates, they will be raising prices for consumers to counteract the increased production cost.
Another way to reduce the substances consumption has also been suggested. This would involve the sale of energy drinks, which are essentially liquidated sugar, being banned to those under 16. I understand the desire to stop children and teenagers from glugging down Red Bulls and Monsters; they do unholy things to your insides. For instance, I nearly did a Will McKenzie in my A-Level English due to drinking too many.
However, although it is good the government are targeting sugar’s physical side effects, they are not stressing the other complications it causes. What we don’t always realise is that it can also impact our mental wellbeing. In his book ‘In My Right Mind’, Tony Weekes argues that sugar is in fact an addiction. Moreover, it can increase chronic consumer’s chances of having mental health issues later in life due to the imbalances it can cause to hormones and brain development. When I spoke to Tony he concluded,
“Addiction and mental health go hand in hand no matter which comes first. Sugar is one of the most addictive substances we consume – our brains reacting to it in a similar way that it does to consumption of illegal narcotics. In all its forms we have been consuming more sugar than ever before. It’s a silent epidemic which may even overshadow obesity. “
I’ll be honest, I don’t really drink fizzy drinks anymore (well unless I’m exceptionally hungover, and then there’s nothing I crave more than a can of Coca-Cola). I’d rather drink water or juice. They hydrate you more, they’re cheap/free and they don’t rot your insides, brain included.
Clearly, however, we are a sugar society, consumption needs reducing, not only to stop us all becoming Michelin men, but also to stop our brains from decaying into mush.
“Bubbles, bubbles everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
– Willy Wonka