Interview - Dr Nigel Carter

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Oral Health Foundation is calling for the UK to make ‘healthy drinks’ the default option with children’s meals in restaurants

AFTER ITS IMPLEMENTATION IN CALIFORNIA, HOW ACHIEVABLE DO YOU THINK THIS IS IN THE UK?

We believe this is possible but needs to be driven, initially, by the restaurant industry. They must take a collective responsibility for helping improve the health of children. This is one simple and cheap move, which could make a big difference. It will not be revolution overnight though, as parents will still be able to ask for fizzy drinks, but it will help more people to be aware of the impact of sugary drinks.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS COMMON FOR A SUGARY DRINK TO BE SERVED WITH CHILDREN’S MEALS?

Going out for a meal in a restaurant is regarded as a treat and therefore it comes with all the hallmarks of a treat. This includes having sugary drinks and indulgent desserts. If this is done very often then it can become a problem. Drinking too many sugary drinks, and drinking them too often, is the biggest cause of tooth decay in children in the UK, as well as many other health issues such as obesity and childhood diabetes. Around one in four five-year-olds in the UK has tooth decay, which is horrific as every single case of tooth decay is almost entirely preventable.

CAN CHILDREN AT A YOUNG AGE BECOME ADDICTED TO SUGAR?

Children can become addicted to sugar; some studies have even shown sugar is more addictive than some drugs. Exposing young children to sugary foods and drinks can indeed enable this. It comes down to prevention and education. Parents and children need to be better educated on the impact of too much sugar and given some real alternatives.

WHAT OTHER ACTIONS COULD BE TAKEN TO IMPROVE CHILDREN’S ORAL HEALTH AND DIETS?

Education is key here. One of the biggest challenges is getting children to understand the importance of their own healthy diet. A key piece of advice is understanding that ‘added sugar’ shouldn’t make up more than 5 per cent of the energy we get from food and drink each day. This needs to begin at a very young age, as what they learn here they will take into later life. The same must be done for parents and carers too. Many habits and behaviours are inherited, and addressing this is the key to healthier children.

ARE YOU STILL SEEING/HEARING OF CHILDREN BEING GIVEN SUGARY DRINKS IN BOTTLES?

Yes, this is still something which is far too common. There is no need for it either. We believe it comes from parents’ own belief that it is more palatable, but this soon snowballs, and many children will only drink sweetened drinks. This can have a devastating effect on their health.

DO YOU THINK SOME ADULTS BELIEVE IT DOESN’T MATTER ABOUT CHILDREN’S CONSUMPTION OF SUGAR BECAUSE THEIR MILK TEETH WILL BE REPLACED BY ADULT TEETH?

Sadly, this is an opinion which is held by far too many people still. But in the long run this is incredibly dangerous as it is about building habits. Children take the diet and healthcare habits they learn at this young age and take them into their later lives. This can cause significant healthcare problems for themselves, and indeed their own children in the future.

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