News

Our obesity epidemic is being fuelled by an avalanche of sugar

NewsBy Lynne Kelleher
Weight gain: Irish are eating far too much sugar in their diets
Weight gain: Irish are eating far too much sugar in their diets

The average Irish person eats a whopping 24 spoons of sugar in their convenience food every day – almost three times more than the global average.

With sugar replacing fat as one of the most vilified food ingredients, the nation has been named as one of the countries with the sweetest teeth in Europe, only behind Germany and the Netherlands. 
 
The figures from global research analysts, Euromonitor, show Ireland munches through 96 grams, or almost 400 calories, of sugar per capita per day in packaged foods and soft drinks. That is nearly twice the amount eaten in Portugal and Italy and FIVE times as much as the Ukraine.
 
Weight loss guru Dr Eva Orsmond – who featured on RTE’s Operation Transformation – said the statistics on Ireland’s sugar intake are “very worrying”.
 
“It is serious and it is shocking, but I’m not surprised we are there because 66 per cent of the population is either overweight or obese. 
 
“What is very worrying is that nearly 100 grams of sugar is around 400 calories a day of empty calories.  
 
“With sugar, you are risking putting on extra weight. Then you are risking heart attacks, strokes, mobility problems, quality of life.”
 
The Euromonitor figures reveal countries like Romania and Poland have much lower sugar consumption, while Mediterranean countries like Italy and Portugal eat just over half the daily sugar intake of Ireland.
 
The straight-talking doctor pointed out that Ireland doesn’t have any excuse to indulge in packaged foods as we are hugely rich in natural produce all year round.
 
“We should value all the basic things in life like home-cooked food and go back to the basics,” she said.
 
The research shows that a quarter of our sugar intake comes from soft drinks, or just under six-and-a-half spoons of sugar per capita a day, ranking Ireland seventh in Europe in the table of sugar intake from soft drinks.
 
Dr Orsmond said: “It is shocking. There is the alternative of diet drinks. Even though I don’t want to promote diet drinks, I still think they are a good option. 
 
“Why are people going for high-sugar options? We shouldn’t be drinking our calories.  There is a need for education. It is ignorance.”
 
She said the nation needs an urgent wake-up call about the health effects of scoffing empty calories.
 
She said: “They are sending all these women these requests for free breast checks, but nobody is sending requests for free body mass index (BMI) checks. We need education and we need to get the authorities to take serious steps here, but that is not happening.  
 
“Being overweight and obesity and breast cancer and everything else all go hand-in-hand. There is more cancer in the overweight and obese population.
 
“We should make BMI and weight something people are incentivised to maintain. Why do we pay for people’s chronic illnesses because they want to lead a non-healthy lifestyle?”
 
There was a wave of controversy recently over suggestions of weigh-ins of children at school, but Dr Orsmond insisted this would be effective behind closed doors in a private consultation room and not in front of the classroom.
 
“The government should start weighing children in at schools and making BMI and weight and height measurement part of a general health index, which would be compulsory for doctors.
 
“I have been saying this for years.  It has been done in Finland for years. But you don’t do it in the class. Anything related to health you would of course do privately.
Message
 
“If you look at the campaigns on drink driving and stopping smoking, they all seemed to work and people are taking the message on board, but the effect of public health campaigns about overweight and obesity seems to be very small.
 
“The dentist would talk about the consequences for dental health and if you talk to a psychiatric or behavioural therapist they would talk about children being hyperactive because we know the effect of sugar on kids. I will tell you it is empty calories. Really it is affecting every single part of our bodies.”
 
She also said the problem with sugar is it becomes a craving for people who consume large quantities of it.
 
“Sugar increases your glucose levels to get your insulin going and then insulin responds and drops your sugar levels again. So you basically are getting this roller-coaster phenomenon in your body where you get your energy up for a moment and then you are hungry again. 
 
“Your insulin is getting any excess that is not used and turning it to fat.”