Sugar … or Candy at the Cash Register

Now, these are news I like to hear: the discounter Lidl chain bans selling sweets and candy at cash registers in Great Britain. The decision was made for the more than 600 discounters fowling a survey showing that 70% of parents felt harassed by sweets sold at registers.

Placing “foods” in prominent locations has increased the consumption rate foods high in sugar. Sugar consumption has tripled over the last decades, surely not just from candy and sweets, but mostly from hidden sugar in all types of foods, especially processed ones. Why does an instant infant tea, which could just as easily be prepared using a tea bag or fired herbs, need to contain approximately, 2.5 teaspoons of sugar per portion?

Sugar is a fascinating “food”. Did you read about the recent media rage following an undergraduate study claiming that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. Read the article to find out how media can manipulate study results.

But back to sugar. Sugar in moderation is important for our organism but at the same time has a lot of negative effects on the human body. Increased sugar consumptions has been associated with fatigue and abolition, sleep disturbances, both diarrhoea and constipation, hair loss, and fungal infestation. Sugar isn’t all bad though. Did you know that the high concentration of sugar used when making jams is needed to reduce the growth of micro-organisms and thus preserves?

So, what does sugar do in our body? Within minutes of consumption, sugar initiates the production of large quantities of insulin in our body. Insulin is a hormone and its task is to remove the sugar from our blood and to help distribute it in all organs and body cells so that they can obtain their energy from it. Insulin also activates the production of serotonin by making the transfer of the amino-acid tryptophan into the blood easier. Serotonin is sometimes called the happiness hormone. But we also know that too high levels of sugar in our brain lead to an increased depletion of tryptophan, thus quickly reducing the feeling of happiness. And that’s when a vicious circle can start.

Increased sugar intake over the last decades has led to an increase of obesity levels and patients suffering from diabetes. A 2013 study by the Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz showed that every fourth high school student in Switzerland is overweight. The costs due to obesity have doubled since 2004. Visit the website of the Bundesamt für Gesundheit to download information in English.

Sugar not only increases obesity levels. A commonly known myth is that sugar causes diabetes. The answer is not that simple. There are two types of diabetes, type 1, caused by genetics and factors not yet known and type 2, caused by lifestyle factors (and also genetics). Obesity and drinking sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. What does that have to do with children and the candy at cash registers, you might ask? When I went to medical school in the late eighties, type 2 diabetes was virtually unheard of in children and teen gars. Actually, it was called adult-onset-diabetes. Since then, more and more children and teenager are diagnosed with Diabetes type 2.

Sugar intake combined with poor dental hygiene is the cause approx. 5 to 15% of children between 1 and five years in Switzerland suffering from tooth decay, in some socio-economic classes the number reach 35%.

The Swiss Foundation for Consumer Protection, Stiftung für Konsumentenschutz (SKS) would welcome a decision to reduce the sale of candy and sweets at cash registers. In a media release from January 2013, the SKS asks that

  • unhealthy foods, aimed at children, may not advertise with slogans like “with vitamin and minerals”
  • advertising for unhealthy foods aiming at children must be limited

For the full text (in German) click here.

With these points in mind, placement of foods such as candy at prominent locations, such as cash registers, even at your local post office, should be drastically reduced. It reduces the arguments between parents and children over these products and can help making our children and us lead a life lower in sugar consumption. Migros Switzerland has started to offer such registers for parents, called Familienkassen. Why is Coop not following claiming that “parents want to make their own educational decisions”? Even Aldi present the sweets at the cash register outside the reach of children.

Do you want to know more about healthy foods or whether they are more a treat? Check out Swiss Health Coach’s Food Truth Challenge on Facebook. I can highly recommend it!

Posted on February 23, 2014 by Luitgard Holzleg

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