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Amongst the 34 million videos posted on TikTok daily, those of bodybuilder Eddie Abbew have recently gone viral for their expletive-laden warnings of junk food. In particular, his videos in the run up to Pancake Day and Easter gained significant views for their timely warnings. “On your marks, get sick, die,” he remarked, as he scanned the promoted shelves of supermarkets filled with pancake toppings, Easter eggs and hot cross buns.

 Whilst somewhat hyperbolic, Abbew’s short-form content raises awareness of a much wider problem: the general public’s hidden addiction to sugar.

Now, it is important to distinguish between different types of sugars. Some sugars appear naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk; foods that are nutritious, full of fibre and beneficial for the health of your gut microbiome. Added sugars, on the other hand, are those found widely in processed foods and those high in saturated fat. Of these, the NHS recommends that adults should consume no more than 30g a day and children no more than 24g a day. This may seem like an achievable target, but closer inspection reveals this to be, in fact, quite tricky.

The average chocolate bar contains approximately 200 to 300 calories – arguably a feasible amount to slot into your daily calorie intake should you fancy a treat. However, the average sugar content in such bars stands at between 25g and 27g – between 80-90% of your daily sugar quota in one sitting. 

The unexpectedly high content of added sugars in everyday foods inevitably supports a high content of sugar in the average diet – a factor which has been evidenced to raise blood pressure, increase inflammation and lead to various chronic diseases like diabetes and fatty liver disease, nevermind increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. For the average worker, high sugar intake can also impair cognitive function and contribute to brain fog, causing rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels throughout the day. Yet, popping out of the office to grab a mid-afternoon treat is so widely accepted across the Western world.

Like Abbew, many content creators are coming online to share how cutting sugar out of their diet did wonders for their gut health, skin clarity, facial inflammation and general energy levels. This is not radical – even if it is a “gritty honesty” for fans of a sweet treat. In fact, it is a status quo shift that scientists and activists have been fighting toward for decades.

It is in both the government’s and larger businesses’ interest to encourage product reformulation – altering the processing and composition of unhealthy foods and beverages  – as those products which are too high in added sugars may soon be left behind as society moves on from their sugar addiction to prioritise their health.

Headway was made by the 2018 Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) which led to sugar intake from soft drinks falling by an average of 2.7%, per household per week whilst encouraging corporates to reduce the added sugar content of their fizzy drinks. Similarly, the legal requirement for calorie labelling on menus legislated in May 2021 stimulated businesses to reformulate unhealthy products before displaying the calorie count to protect both their dignity and public image. Nevertheless, the problem at large warrants more regulation to encourage more reformulation.

First, the Government should consider highlighting those products which are high in added sugar with a dedicated symbol on their packaging. Doing so would help to change the lived environment and nudge consumers towards healthier alternatives. Ensuring both sugar content and calories are clearly labelled would help to highlight the calorie-sugar problem which often bypasses the consumer’s attention.

Secondly, it is essential that the threshold employee number to display calorie content and nutritional value on menus and food labels should be lowered. Currently, a company can have up to 250 employees without needing to display a food’s nutritional information, which leaves many national and even international companies able to slip through the cracks and not face responsibility for their social impact.

By doing so, the Government might put pressure on food businesses to reinvest some of their profits into reformulating their products to be less calorific and more nutritional, such as by including more fibre, protein and micronutrients in their products, all of which we know to be beneficial to our health. 

It is high time for the food sector to take the responsibility to explore healthier yet tasty products. At the very least, they have the responsibility to be transparent about the impact they have on their consumers. Abbew’s ideal diet is certainly far off becoming the norm, but his thinking should not be the exception.

Emily Taylor is the Senior Communications and External Affairs Officer at Bright Blue. She is also a co-editor of Centre Write.  

Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not those of Bright Blue.

[Image: Barry Barnes]