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Is sugar the enemy?

By Adam Shelverton
Senior Rehabilitation Consultant

Sugar is everywhere in our diet and often in the most unexpected places. Food manufacturers use it as a flavour enhancer, particularly for low fat foods for example, soa savoury meal is often laden with sugar. And its consumption is causing rapidly rising levels of obesity in both developed and developing nations, as well as rises in associated conditions such as diabetes. It is often accepted as the one of the biggest health challenges for the 21st century. “It’s the new smoking”, to quote Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS.

The UK has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe. Current research shows that 24.9% of the population in the UK are obese and sugar is a significant contributor to this alarming statistic.

Estimates put the cost to the UK economy of obesity at £5 billion, quite apart from the costs of other conditions linked to excess sugar consumption.

Sugary drinks are seen as one of the culprits. These are normally high calorie drinks, which do nothing to satisfy hunger. More alarmingly they are often marketed as energy drinks, with the implication that they can form part of a fitness regime. Sugary drink advertising is often aimed at the young and easily impressionable, placing them at a higher risk of become overweight. 

Why sugar is bad for our health

We all know that too much sugar rots our teeth and makes us fat, but exactly why is that the case?

Here are a few examples;

  • Fat promoting effects: drinks high in fructose do nothing to lower the hunger hormone “Ghrelin”. This means calories from sugar aren’t as fulfilling, which can lead to increased calorie intake
  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease: fructose is a type of sugar can only really be metabolised in any quantities by the liver. The liver turns this sugar into fat (Cholesterol particles) and some of this fat can lodge in the liver which can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease.
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin is a very important hormone as it regulates how we use and burn glucose in our cells and blood. High sugar intake is believed to reduce the effectiveness of insulin, thereby increasing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes in particular.
  • Empty calories: sugar is essentially pure energy, it contains no essential vitamins, minerals or nutrients. Sugar rots our teeth because it provides easily digestible energy for bad bacteria in the mouth.
  • It’s addictive: sugar causes a massive release of dopamine in the reward centre of the brain, this means it’s highly addictive. The more you consume, the more your body craves for it.

Tackling the problem

Societies have changed remarkably since the 1950s, as we have all become less active – whether through increased car ownership, less participation in sports, or the rise of sedentary occupations. The service industry now accounts for 73% of all business in the UK, a significant move away for production and manufacturing where job roles were more active.

Given the economic and social impacts of obesity to the nation’s wealth and health, the Government is looking at various avenues to curb sugar consumption, including a 20% tax on fizzy sugary drinks. This is not something new; when Mexico introduced a 10% tax on fizzy drinks, sales of taxed drinks fell by 6%.

Encouraging a healthier regime in the workplace will lead to a healthier workforce, with less absence through obesity-related conditions, lower costs of absence and higher productivity.

How employers can help

  • Create a workplace health initiative, in addition to any health and wellbeing programme in place, by including healthy eating and exercise.
  • Encourage take up of cycle to work schemes and gym discounts to support employees’ efforts to get in shape.
  • Shower facilities encourage people to be more active in their lunch breaks and take a full lunch break.
  • Introduce regular health and dental checks.
  • Support out of work sports clubs or employee sports teams.
  • Minimise shift working if at all possible. There is early evidence of a causative link between shift working and obesity and diabetes, in particular with regard to rotating shifts.
  • Subsidise healthy snacks – instead of filling the vending machine full of sugary food and drinks, provide a fruit basket instead.
  • Promote and encourage employee charity work – a lot of charity work/fundraising involves challenges of a physical nature as well as it being for a great cause.

Your contact

Your contact

Adam Shelverton

Adam Shelverton

Rehabilitation Manager

Tel: +44 113 290 6321