According to conference officials, consuming an excessive amount of sugar continues to be a major health issue throughout the region and is a major contributor to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and obesity.
For Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Karl Samuda, excess sugar in the diet is a “clear and present danger”.
“When I was a little boy growing up, we used to drink sugar and water…that was the cheapest thing. All we did was mix the sugar with the water and it quenched the thirst. But we have gone beyond that stage now where we have to be far more discriminatory about what we consume,” he pointed out in an interview with JIS News.
He noted that many persons are consuming too much sweet foods and drinks and are now suffering the consequences.
“The fact of the matter is that we are having a serious problem and it ends up costing us in healthcare,” he said.
He is imploring persons to cut back on their sugar intake. “Most of us who are in the habit of having two teaspoons of sugar in our coffee should try and reduce that to one,” he suggested.
“We have to pay attention to the nutritional value of the food. It is not a matter of asking people to deny themselves of things that they want to eat. We just have to be smart and know that there are health risks that can be fatal,” he pointed out.
Excessive sugar contributes to high blood pressure and raises the risk of heart disease. Research shows that raised blood glucose accounts for 21 per cent of heart disease and 13 per cent of stroke mortality worldwide, amounting to about 3.16 million deaths a year.
Sugar can also suppress the immune system, leading to conditions such as arthritis, allergies, asthma and multiple sclerosis, and impair defences against Candida or yeast infection.
Mr. Samuda said the FAO has and will continues to lead the fight to promote healthy eating in order to reduce diet-related conditions.
He further noted that the time has come for a serious sit-down with manufacturers of sweet drinks and other items with heavy sugar content to see how best the sugar can be minimised.
“We have to take this into question,” he says. “We produce sugar locally and we use it in our drinks and baked products. We have to find some common ground where we do not undermine the integrity and taste of the products,” he pointed out.
In the meantime, Director General of the FAO, Dr. José Graziano da Silva, said that so serious are the problems resulting from heavy sugar intake that some counties have barred the sale of certain products in school canteens.
“Other measures have also been implemented to counter what is a serious global problem and one that the FAO takes very seriously,” he noted.
“We have to, in a responsible way, implement policies. Everyone, from governments, families, consumers, makers of products, have to come together to have a complete review of what is happening and also the way forward,” he added.
He noted that diabetes is a big problem across the LAC region, fueled not only by high sugar intake but also poor lifestyle habits.
“There has to be a change in our health habits and the way we market our foods to the consumers. There will be resistance, for sure, but we have to be steadfast in our approach,” he pointed out.
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