Coming to grips with big sugar

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Sugar in drinks

By Matthew Bradley (guest opinion)

With March break underway this week for Island students, many families are on the move, heading out for the ski slopes or to seek out warmer temperatures and a well-earned break from the snow shovel. Others will stick closer to home and instead schedule some local family activities both outdoors and in.

Either way, the kids’ week off from school will likely result in a change in our day-to-day routine — and in our eating and drinking habits. March is also Nutrition Month, so what better time to remind ourselves of the need to watch out for the empty calories in some of the extra treats that tend to be more available — and more tempting — during these departures from our usual schedules?

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that adults who consume one-quarter of their daily calories as sugar nearly triple their risk of heart attack. Sugary drinks, including pop, energy and sports drinks, are the No. 1 major source of these empty calories and a leading contributor to current trends toward overweight and obesity. Portion sizes play a huge role: a 16- ounce beverage, once intended to serve three, is now a small single serving size that in larger sizes can exceed 40 ounces. A single can of sugar-sweetened pop contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of sugar.

Is a hotel to be your home-away-from-home over the March break? Ask for a mini-fridge in your room and scout out a nearby grocery store to stock up on some bottled water or ingredients for low-fat smoothies. The smaller and more portable hand blenders won’t take up much room in your luggage and are ideal for shaking up a one- or two-portion healthy and tasty snack.

Taking the kids to a movie or for an afternoon of bowling in your home community? Encourage them to add milk, water or fruit juice to their concession stand treat. Did you promise them a sleepover with friends during the break? Why not stock up on plain yogurt and a selection of fresh fruits and let the kids make their own smoothies? If they stubbornly insist on pop as their drink of choice, consider a compromise by allowing it as a one-time indulgence and in a small portion size.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation was pleased to learn of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) launch earlier this month of a public consultation on its draft guideline on sugar intake. When finalized, the guideline will provide countries with recommendations on limiting the consumption of sugars, strongly linked to public health problems like obesity and tooth decay.

For real change to happen at the community level the Foundation encourages Islanders to begin a conversation to move the needle on normalizing healthier choices and making them more available. Together we can have a strong voice in advocating for regulations on the sizing, pricing and availability of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Here’s to a restful, restorative and healthy March Break for everyone and a move toward healthier families and healthier communities. It’s time to stop wringing our hands about the obesity epidemic, and instead start a serious conversation about improving the health — and the lives — of our residents, by taking a stand on reducing our consumption of sugary drinks.


 Matthew Bradley is chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation board of directors in P.E.I.

Organizations: Journal of the American Medical Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation, World Health Organization

Geographic location: P.E.I.

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