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In the future, we'll look back in horror


Donal O'Shea

Donal O'Shea

Donal O'Shea

In the 1980s after completing the Inter Cert, you could smoke in many schools once you had your parents' permission. In 2014, that would cause outrage.

In 2044, there will be similar horror at the way that children are encouraged and allowed to consume liquid sugar today.

We now know that obesity - driven by sedentary lifestyle and dietary habits - is the biggest cause of non-communicable disease.

Sugar-sweetened drinks are the single biggest and most easily addressed contributor.

It will be told something like this - "Running around a pitch, it was called an 'energy drink' or 'sports drink', on the way to school it was called a 'smoothie', at lunchtime it was simply part of the lunch."

"Every day Ireland's five- to 12-year-olds were getting significant calories from fizzy drinks and other sugary drinks.

"The practice was allowed to continue well after the association between sugar-sweetened drinks and child obesity and adult diabetes had been firmly established.

"Back in 2014, well-recognised sports personalities (GAA stars, Olympians and rugby captains) were used to promote the myth that these drinks improved athletic performance - there was zero evidence to support this.

"At that time, health claims for foods or drinks needed no evidence to support them and the majority were misleading and false. Industry could make a global claim or change in 30 seconds that would take governments 30 years to respond to."

We now know enough. Liquid calories are for the most part useless calories - the single exception being milk.

The repeated call by the food and drinks industry for personal responsibility and choice to be the cornerstone of the solution is wrong.

The solution involves motivating the population to change - a step-by-step approach.

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We do not allow five-year-old children to smoke - and would have no difficulty intervening if we saw adults facilitating that behaviour.

We now have the knowledge that sugar-sweetened drinks have a similar impact on all aspects of health - mental, dental and physical.

The food and drinks industry will continue to set up foundations and fund reports that claim otherwise.

Society - and everyone must participate in the solution - needs to call a spade a spade on the issue of sugar sweetened drinks.

Time of death - 2014?

Prof Donal O'Shea is a consultant endocrinologist and expert on obesity. He is director of the weight management clinic at St Columcille's Hospital.

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