Better sugar labelling could benefit dental health


In a new study carried out by researchers at the George Institute for Global Health, it was found that a significant amount of sugar is added to foods. Owing to a decline in the oral health of Australians, dentists have called on food manufacturers to state on their packaging the amount of sugar added to the products, according to the Australian Dental Association.

The Health Star Rating front-of-pack labelling system used in Australia rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged foods and includes total sugar content as one of the components. This has been criticised because sugars naturally present in some foods are treated the same as sugars added during processing. However, according to co-author of the study Prof. Bruce Neal, only labelling total sugar content is misleading. This is particularly true for discretionary products containing a great deal of added sugar. “Good sugars are an integral part of a healthy diet, and we need to be able to separate sugars naturally present in dairy, fruits and vegetables from sugars added during manufacturing,” he said.


Illustration: nutrition is an important part of dental prohylaxis


The aim of the study was to show that greater transparency on added sugar in packaged foods is necessary. The researchers analysed more than 34,000 packaged foods—about 18,000 discretionary foods (those not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs) and nearly 16,000 core foods, like milk, cheese and bread—to learn how the labelling could be improved if added sugars were included.

The analysis found that seven out of ten packaged goods sold in supermarkets contain added sugar. From this, it is clear that reform is needed to ensure the oral health of young Australians, said Dr Hugo Sachs, President of the Australian Dental Association. Excess sugar in the diet is associated with increasing rates of dental caries seen in children as young as 1. “Nationally, over 24,000 children aged 14 years or under were admitted to hospital due to dental conditions. Over half of six-year-olds have experienced tooth decay in their baby teeth and up to half of 12-year-olds have experienced tooth decay in their permanent teeth,” said Sachs.

Furthermore, Neal said that half of Australian adults consume more added sugar than they should, indicating a clear need for improved labelling. A report published earlier this year by consumer advocacy group CHOICE found that consumers could avoid 26 teaspoons of sugar a day if they could identify added sugars on food packs.

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