Australia: are we eating ourselves blind?

9th November 2020 | Eativity editors

The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) is urging people to drastically reduce their sugar intake in order to avoid potential blindness. This Saturday, November 14, is World Diabetes Day and the ASO wants to remind people across Australia that diabetes – and blindness due to diabetes – is not only treatable but preventable.

Nearly 10 percent of Australians are impacted by diabetes, and diabetes-related eye disease is the leading cause of blindness among working age adults in this country. The longer you suffer from diabetes, the more likely you are to develop damage to the retina, and with nearly one third of Aussie children now overweight or obese, we could be preparing a deadly, blinding cocktail in the future – with sugar as its main ingredient. 

“Our sugar-laden diet is responsible for more disease and death than inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined,” says Dr James Muecke, an ophthalmologist and 2020 Australian of the Year. “Of all the consequences of eating too much sugar, blindness is probably the one that least springs to mind… yet it is one of the most debilitating.”

Sugary soft drinks don’t just rot your teeth – over time they can do real damage to your health.

Back in 2016, the ASO called for the Australian Government to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks in order to help curb Australia’s spiralling epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as the life-changing and life-threatening complications of diabetes.

Then President of the ASO, Dr Michael Steiner, said, “A sugar tax is one way we can make an impact. What we must do is begin to put structures in place to create an environment that’s conducive to preventative healthcare.” 

Dr Steiner went on to say that “no brainer” strategies like a tax on sugary drinks were “especially important as most Australians are introduced to sugary drinks as children, thus starting a bad habit which becomes more difficult to stop.” While the ASO President may have changed, the need for such interventions has not.

A tax on sugary soft drinks is a “no brainer” when it comes to improving our nation’s diet.

Dr Muecke was awarded Australian of the Year at the start of 2020 for his work in fighting blindness in poor communities, particularly blindness caused by type 2 diabetes… and then COVID-19 struck. While Dr Muecke’s initial intentions were to use his position as Australian of the Year to help promote a healthier lifestyle (including less sugar, less type 2 diabetes and less diabetes-related blindness), in true 2020 style the very opposite occurred.

The Australian of the Year slipped from our collective consciousness as the pandemic took hold, and people’s eating habits became even more unhealthy than they previously had been. But with the vast majority of Australians now over the worst of the potential COVID-19 catastrophe, the ASO believes that it isn’t too late for Dr Muecke to use his position to remind people of just how much their health – and their sight – is impacted by their diet.

Sweet poison: by minimising your sugar intake your can protect your health – and your vision.

“Minimising your intake of sugar and highly processed foods, which also helps to control blood pressure, can dramatically reduce the risk of developing diabetes-related blindness or slow its progression once established,” Dr Muecke says.

It’s also important that people with diabetes have regular eye checks. Well over half of the 1.7 million people with diabetes in Australia aren’t maintaining regular sight-saving eye check-ups. But a regular test with an eye health professional can help detect diabetes-related eye disease in its infancy, making treatment less invasive and more successful.

2020 has brought about a major rethink and shift in how we live our lives on so many levels. The ASO wants people to extend the positive aspects of this life-changing, health-focused era even further by adopting a healthier, lower-sugar life so that we can be assured a brighter, more-sight-filled future.