The Sugar Reduction Intake or How Can We Promote Healthy Habits in Europe?
Processed sugar and raw sugar

The reduction of daily sugar intake 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially released its recommendations for sugar intake. “We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. 

This recommendation has given rise to widespread coverage in media outlets around the world, and international and European organisations have also tried to raise awareness of the dangers linked to redundant sugar intake. Moniques Goyens, the Director General of the European Consumer Organisation, made a comment in a press statement concerning the WHO recommendation: “The WHO hammers that we still ingest too much sugar. Unfortunately, consumers have no idea of how much sugar they eat, most of it being hidden in processed foods and drinks, hard to spot on labels. One would never add 4 to 5 teaspoons of sugar to a cup of tea or coffee. But this could be the amount you can ingest by eating a single yoghurt”.

The role of media in promoting healthy habits

One thing should be clear to all of us: this recommendation was issued at least in part due to the worrying facts that we have to acknowledge in the European region. According to the latest data from the WHO, 1 out of 3 11-year old children in Europe are overweight or obese. This alarming trend needs particular attention and wide media involvement, as it concerns our children and our nearest future.

There are some positive examples of media outlets raising awareness of this issue. For example, the Flemish public broadcasting (VRT) and mainly from their Canvas channel,  recently broadcasted a 51 minute documentary called “Gemakkelijk gezond” (Easily healthy). The authors of the documentary make healthy experiments not only in their VRT canteen, but they also visit the Google offices in Brussels, showing their system of labeling food with the help of traffic lights system in the canteen; they analyse school lunches in Flanders and the success story of healthy school lunches in Finland. Besides, they are mentioning traffic light labelling system of products, against which MEPs have voted in 2010. The documentary can be watched on the official site of the channel and, although, the main language of it is Dutch, a big part of it is understandable as many experts' speeches and interviews are in English and were not dubbed into Dutch.

Finland’s success story with the free school catering system

The questions raised in the documentary are extremely relevant for European health policy. First of all, Finland illustrates the brilliant example of free school catering system. There is no use to remind that the healthy habits of people are mainly educated in their childhood through family and school.  Finland was the first country not only in Europe, but in the whole world, who served free school meals beginning with 1948. Special National Nutrition Council in Finland observes and improves the dietary guidelines for schools. Almost 50% of the school lunch plate includes vegetables and fruits that make pupils used to eat healthy and perceive it as a norm. Probably this can be one of the reasons why Finnish children were considered one of the smartest kids in the world according to The Wall Street Journal. The Finish example was also used in the book by the Canadian writer Andrea Curtis, who published in 2012 her book What’s for Lunch? How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World.  She explored carefully school meals in Finland and noted their rich experience and efficient system.

The school lunch comparisons around the world were revealed by Sweetgreen, a chain of US restaurants, and website Never Seconds, run by Scottish schoolgirl Martha Payne. 

Traffic light rating system prevents from buying harmful products?

The second crucial point is how to prevent people from buying products which appear not that harmful for them from the first sight, but which in reality are. For example, mentioned below traffic light rating system presents a simple method of showing how much fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt contain a certain product using traffic-lights colours – red, amber and green. These labels could be more efficient, located on the front of the package instead the common Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) – a more difficult system shown mostly on the side or back of the package. But in 2010 EU MPs have voted against these proposals to oblige food manufacturers to use traffic light labels on the front of package in order to help consumers manage their daily intake of salt, sugar and fat. A new report by Corporate Europe Observatory reveals how the Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA) has spent €1 billion opposing this legislation on food labeling.

In conclusion of the article, it is crucial to reiterate not only the importance of our awareness of the risks we take buying certain products but also the significant influence of adults on children and their nutrition that we should not misuse.