Sugar is currently public enemy number one. The World Health Organisation has decreed that it is killing us - their figures suggest that there are over 1 billion overweight adults globally, with at least 300 million of them obese, and as such have recommended that we drastically reduce our sugar consumption. Sugar is being cited as a very real threat to our collective health, and reason number one why waistlines are getting bigger and bigger.
Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, has gone on record to say that being overweight has been normalized in the UK, and that "research will find sugar is addictive." Paul van der Velpen, head of Amsterdam's health service, has described sugar as "the most dangerous drug of the times". Dr Robert Lustig, author of book Fat Chance, says "The food industry has made it a diet staple because they know when they do you buy more... if some unscrupulous cereal manufacturer went out and laced your breakfast cereal with morphine to get you to buy more, what would you think of that? They do it with sugar instead."
WHO attributes the rising obesity epidemic to increased consumption of more energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats, combined with reduced physical activity. There is absolutely no arguing that as a nation we're getting bigger, and that sugar is the main culprit. I think that education is to blame.
Nutritional information is severely lacking in our current generation, and we're in danger of passing on our ignorance on to our children. In my clinics we've seen a 27% increase in weight loss patients over the past twelve months, and we've performed 14% more health checks for patients on Alizonne, our rapid weight loss therapy. What we're finding is the same old story, over and over again: patients had no clue about the nutritional value of their food, or how to prepare meals that are healthy and balanced, and hence continued to lead unhealthy lifestyles and yo-yo diet.
My doctors are finding out firsthand that sugar addiction, in particular, is very real problem indeed. Changes in diet can fail for many reasons - lack of direction, impractical meal plans, or disappointing results in weight loss - but the feedback we get over and over again is that it's sugary treats that are hardest to resist. What patients fail to realise is that sugar is in almost everything we buy at the supermarket.
There's no question, then, that we're accidental sugar addicts. In the first weeks of our weight loss therapy patients lose a lot of weight very quickly - about 14 pounds a month - as under the guidance of a doctor, they replace sugar and gluten with protein sachets. But the side effect of these early days of detoxing can be headaches, nausea, uncontrollable weeping, shaking - in short, all the signs associated with drug users going cold turkey. Sugar, it seems, works in very similar ways on our bodies: even the hidden stuff.
Action on Sugar, an organization launched to reduce the amount of sugar added to food and soft drinks, have written about foods with surprisingly high amounts of sugar added to them. Their aim is to help people avoid the "hidden sugars" in food. For example, we often pluck for "fat-free" food, which many don't understand is not synonymous with "sugar-free". Fat free products often have a lot of sugar in them to maintain flavour and texture after the fat is removed. 150g of some 0% fat yoghurts can contain as much as 20g of sugar: that's half of a woman's recommended daily intake. The BBC reported that a tomato-based pasta sauce can contain up to 13g of sugar per serving if it is shop-bought. That's about three teaspoons of sugar. Even bread can be high in sugar, with around 3g per slice. It is everywhere. Sugar gives us a rapid high that is then followed by a crashing low, so the body begins to crave more to keep energy high. It's that craving that becomes addiction, and is tough to break once we decide to change our ways.
Professor Terrance Stephenson, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Collages, is supportive of a sugar tax. "The nanny state can be a caring state," he has said, likening sugar regulation to seat belt laws and drink-drive limits. Within the UK, almost two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, with medical conditions spanning from this including, but not limited to, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and breathing trouble. Sugar tax would mean heightened awareness on what foods contain unhealthy amounts, ultimately educating the population on better choices for their bodies.
The figures in my clinic reflect a growing desire to get weight under control, and for us to inform ourselves at a better level on exactly what a balanced, healthy diet looks like. Then hidden sugars in food can make this a frustrating and difficult process, and so a more transparent system to identify this can only help the UK - and, in fact, the world. But what the need for a tax on sugar really reveals is not that we must babysit ourselves, but that we must educate ourselves. It is only then that a true health transformation will begin.