A diabetes epidemic and supermarkets who are pushers for an addictive drug called sugar
23:39 GMT, 4 March 2013
10:23 GMT, 5 March 2013
The obesity epidemic is worsening, with drastic consequences for the nation’s health. New figures published this week show that the number of people with diabetes has gone up by more than a third in the past six years.
In 2012 alone, 132,000 new cases were diagnosed. A condition that was once a rarity is fast becoming a nationwide affliction. More than three million people now suffer from the disease — almost 5 per cent of the entire population.
What lies behind the dramatic growth in diabetes is our excessive level of sugar consumption. This is the driving force behind our increasing weight problems and related ill-health.
The obesity epidemic is worsening, with drastic consequences for the nation's health. New figures published this week show that the number of people with diabetes has gone up by more than a third in the past six years
In today’s fast-paced consumer society, dominated by junk food, processed produce, and convenience meals, the heavyweight presence of sugar is all around us. It is everywhere in the supermarket aisles, which are full of confectionery and litre-bottles of fizzy drinks.
Every airport and railway station is crowded with outlets providing high-sugar snacks. Checkout staff in W.H. Smith offer you a bargain on some vast slab of chocolate every time you buy a newspaper.
Almost every High Street in Britain is filled with fast-food outlets, whose greatest ability is to expand our waistlines.
Even gyms, which are supposed to be devoted to better personal fitness, are riddled with cafes and vending machines offering chocolate bars and biscuits. Nor do people realise how much sugar they are really consuming.
Many foods that are widely marketed as good for you, such as breakfast cereals, fruit juices or yogurts, are actually stuffed with sugar.
Flapjacks, often seen as a healthy alternative to sweets, are almost held together by sugar.
So-called ‘diet’ and fat-free products are just as bad. When you remove the fat in natural foods during processing, you instantly create a taste deficit. Fat is inherently flavoursome (compare full-fat milk and skimmed), so manufacturers try to plug the flavour gap by adding sugar, often in disguised forms. That brown, sticky-caramel, meaty taste in ready meals, for instance, will come courtesy of sugar.
Today, I looked at a packet of beef lasagne sold by one of the big supermarket chains, and found that it contained sugar, molasses and both barley and malt extract — all of these are sweet and highly fattening.
Sugar rush: The heavyweight presence of sugar is all around us. It is everywhere in the supermarket aisles, which are full of confectionery and litre-bottles of fizzy drinks
This goes to the heart of the problem. The public are ignorant about the risks of sugar partly because they have been misled by the Government, health promotion campaigners and nutrition experts.
For years, the primary focus of the drive to reduce our weight has been, not on sugar, but on saturated fats. We have been constantly told that, to get fitter, we have to cut down on these fats, which are mainly found in meat, cheese and dairy products.
‘Fat makes you fat’ is the essence of this advice, encouraging the belief, for example, that a sirloin steak is far worse for you than Coca cola.
But this approach is completely wrong. When it comes to our obesity epidemic, sugar is the real culprit. That is what truly makes us fat.
When we eat sugar, our bodies produce the hormone insulin, which accelerates fat storage and leads to weight gain. That is why it is so deadly.
Sugar consumption is the driving force behind our increasing weight problems and related ill-health
Just as importantly, when we eat carbohydrates, like pasta, bread and cereals, our bodies metabolise them as if they were sugar. So we then get the same production of insulin, the same spike in our blood sugar levels and the same storage of fat.
Again, this contradicts all the fashionable official advice that we should base our meals on bulky, starchy foods as the route to a healthier lifestyle. By following such advice, we are radically increasing our sugar consumption and disrupting the proper functioning of our bodies.
That is why people who eat a lot of pizzas or chips are so prone to extreme weight gain: their bodies are effectively receiving frequent large injections of sugar.
This process is seen at its worst with soft drinks.
Even the most voracious eaters have a limit to the amount of food they can consume, because the body produces a hormone called leptin which regulates the appetite.
But scientific evidence shows that our bodies are not programmed to deal with sweet liquids, which seem to over-ride the production of leptin. So the amount of sugary drinks we can consume is almost limitless.
There are two other biological factors fuelling today’s sugar rush. The first is the fact that sweets, food and carbohydrates — unlike saturated fats — never leave us satisfied. Because they are digested so quickly, they fill us up only briefly and soon lead to more hunger cravings.
That is why it is far better to eat a full traditional breakfast of eggs and sausages than a trendy breakfast of sugary cereal and skimmed milk.
The analogy could be drawn with a domestic fire. A newspaper burns quickly and impressively, but soon disappears and has to be quickly replenished to keep the fire going. Wood and coal, the equivalent of fats and protein, burn much more slowly — but their flames last longer.
The second biological factor is that sugar is in itself addictive. Just like a junkie or an alcoholic, the more we have, the more we want. When the palette is dulled by over-consumption, an even greater sugar high is needed.
That is one prime reason why so many overweight people develop eating disorders and even get withdrawal symptoms when they try to change their diet.
Tesco announced this week that it is to give 10 million to the campaign group Diabetes UK. But if Tesco really cared about the problem, it would transform the type of stock it holds and the layout of its stores
There is also an economic imperative at work here. In the midst of the continuing recession, we have to face the fact that a diet based on good quality meat, fish, vegetables and protein is more expensive than one filled with sugar and carbohydrate.
It is easier, if not healthier, for families struggling on a budget to feed themselves with bulk buys such as economy pizzas and family-pack takeaways.
The big retailers, including the supermarkets and fast-food chains, know this. They have a vested commercial interest in feeding our addiction to sugar, pretending that they are doing us a favour by deluging us with their special offers and phoney marketing ploys.
Sugar is in itself addictive. Just like a junkie or an alcoholic, the more we have, the more we want
If they really had a sense of social responsibility, they wouldn’t be so eager to hype up their sugar-laden products.
It is telling that the supermarkets constantly boast of their diversity of choice to cater for every type of customer, with their gluten-free and wheat-free products, yet they never seem to have a sugar-free aisle.
And for sheer cynicism dressed up as public service, it is hard to beat Tesco’s announcement this week that it is to give 10 million to the campaign group Diabetes UK in order to raise awareness about the disease.
If Tesco really cared about the problem, it would transform the type of stock it holds and the layout of its stores. Removing all the confectionary at the checkouts might be a start, as would the withdrawal of buy-one, get-one-free offers on multi-litre bottles of carbonated drinks.
Tobacco used to be as prevalent in British society as sugary foods and drinks are today. In the Fifties, incredibly, 80 per cent of all adults smoked. But because of the health risks, cigarettes have now been marginalised through punitive taxation, advertising bans, restrictions on sales and public health campaigns.
As this week’s statistics show, sugar is just as big a menace. We need exactly the same kind of approach as has worked so well with smoking.
And we could start by imposing a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.
The retailers might bleat about consumer freedom, but in reality, they are holding our health to ransom with their greed.