Finding the sweet spot – do Mums know the bitter truth about sugar?
The Mums we speak to every week in the course of our group discussions, accompanied shopping trips and in home interviews are concerned with the amount of sugar their children eat. They readily equate too much sugar with childhood obesity and dental problems, and claim to limit their children’s intake of sugar-laden foods.
Yet according to the World Health Organisation, we are still consuming about twice as much sugar as is good for us, with consumers in the UK getting through a whopping two million tonnes per year: the equivalent of 140 teaspoons per week each. Recent figures show that 29% of children are either overweight or obese.
So what’s the reason for the gap between perception and reality?
- Firstly, there is a general perception amongst Mums that ‘sweet is bad, savoury is good’, and hence a blindness to hidden sugar in savoury products such as ready-made soups and sauces, ketchup, dressings, and ready meals.
- There is also a widespread notion that certain categories of food such as cereals, dried fruit, fruit juice and smoothies are ‘healthy’. Although we are beginning to notice some resistance to sugary cereals, juices and smoothies, there is a long way to go before the health halo of these categories loses its lustre.
- Thirdly, there is much confusion about artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharine still suffer from scare stories linking them to cancer in the tabloid media, and despite reassurances from the NHS to the contrary, many Mums would prefer to give their kids products which contain sugar, as at least it is ‘natural’!
- Stevia, a natural sweetener, although approved for use in a wide variety of products, suffers from the taint of ‘sugar substitute’, and consumers are still wary of it, and unsure whether or not it is safe to give to their kids or consume themselves.
- There is some vague awareness amongst a few Mums about the ‘crash and burn’ effects of sugar, and the role sugar substitutes play in sugar addiction, but most still replay a very garbled story.
- Scepticism about manufacturer claims is common. So many products which purport to be ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ have been subsequently found not to be either, and this makes Mums suspicious of sweeping claims about the health credentials of a product.
Given that it now appears that sugar is not only linked to obesity, but is also an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as well as other chronic diseases such as cirrhosis and dementia, isn’t it time for some clearer communication, not just a tax on fizzy drinks?