Sugar - Our Silent Killer

Much discussion regarding the rising costs of healthcare fail to take into account that in order for prices to rise, there must be an increase in demand.

In other words, if the price of healthcare is rising, it is because there are more sick people.

And what are the diseases that are rising steadily in the South African population?  They are diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity.

These maladies are not just popping up mysteriously.  We know what’s causing them – it’s sugar.

Although consumption of raw table sugar has dropped over the past years, total consumption of sugar has increased – that’s because food companies are pumping more sugar into our processed foods.  So even though people are buying less raw sugar, they are in fact buying more sugar through processed food consumption.

Sugar has a number of ill effects.  It increases the osmotic potential of blood, which forces blood to absorb more water – like a balloon filling up, this causes the blood vessels to swell up due to increased internal pressure; in other words, sugar causes high blood pressure.  Sugar forces the body to burn less fat, and the extra fat ends up becoming cholesterol.  Sugar also forces the body to make fat – in other words, the calorie content in sugar is not completely nor easily burned, because some of it will be dedicated to increasing fat stores instead of going to the muscles and internal organs for use as fuel.  This ends up causing obesity. Lastly, excess sugar poisons the pancreas and can therefore cause diabetes.

So we already have a smoking gun – sugar.  And this sugar is causing rising healthcare prices for everyone, not just the sugar eaters.  Healthy eaters are being forced to pay increasing healthcare costs as well, because of the poor food choices that are forced upon us by food companies.

So what can be done?  We could us the same simple solution that worked effectively for smoking – which is to put a warning label on the box.  Warning labels effectively reduced smoking, which reduced the burden of smoking related illness on society, which benefited everyone.  Yes, people still smoke, but the trend is definitely on a downward path, and this battle was begun with simple labels such as ‘Smoking causes cancer.’  The best way to start this battle against sugar, and therefore to improve the health of South African society (and thereby lower healthcare costs for all of us) is to inform the consumer.  Put a warning label on all products that have added sugar; things like, ‘This product contains sugar.  Sugar may cause obesity’ or ‘This product contains sugar.  Sugar may worsen or cause hypertension’.  This, presumably, will have the same effect on sugar consumption as it did on smoking – namely, it will slowly drop.

Ultimately, many of us do not want to live in a nanny state that just bans things because they are bad – however, there is a moral and societal obligation to make sure that consumers are informed of the consequences of their decisions.  Many consumers, if they are just given enough information, will make the right decisions for their health, which will benefit everyone in the end through falling healthcare costs.

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