Local, News

‘People are eating themselves blind’ – spotlight on sugar consumption this World Diabetes Day

The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) has joined forces with Australian of the Year Dr James Muecke ahead of this week’s World Diabetes Day to highlight the dangers of excessive sugar consumption and reiterate calls for a soft drink ‘sugar tax’.

The country’s peak medico-political ophthalmic body is urging people to drastically reduce their sugar intake to avoid potential blindness through diabetic eye disease.

With the awareness campaign taking place Saturday 14 November, Muecke combined with the ASO to point out that sugar-laden diets are responsible for more disease and death than inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.

“People are eating themselves blind. 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,” he said.

Ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke has used his platform as Australian of the Year to promote healthier lifestyles and highlight the link between sugar consumption and eye disease.

According to the ASO, nearly one in ten Australians are impacted by diabetes, and diabetes-related eye disease is the leading cause of blindness among working age adults. With nearly one-third of Australian children now overweight or obese, the organisation says it appears “we are currently preparing a deadly, blinding cocktail for the future – with sugar as its main ingredient”.

As far back as 2016, the ASO called on the Australian Government to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks to help curb Australia’s spiralling epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes – and their life-changing complications.

Current ASO board director Dr Michael Steiner, who was president at the time, said the structures needed to be in place to create an environment that’s conducive to preventative healthcare.

He went on to state 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”.

In 2018 the UK Government introduced a sugar tax that aims to reduce sugar consumption by persuading soft drink companies to reformulate their high sugar brands and avoid paying the levy.

Since being named Australian of the Year in January, Muecke – a South Australian ophthalmologist and founder of Sight For All – wanted to use the platform to help promote healthier lifestyles, including less sugar, type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related blindness.

But, according to the ASO, people’s eating habits became worse due to the challenges of 2020. Now, with the vast majority of Australians through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation believes that it isn’t too late for Muecke to use his position to remind people of how much their health – and their sight – is impacted by what they eat.

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

“Well over half of the 1.7 million people with diabetes in Australia aren’t having their sight-saving eye checks. A regular test with an eye health professional can help detect diabetes-related eye disease in its infancy and make treatment less invasive and much more successful.”

More reading

Eye surgeon James Muecke named Australian of the Year

Only half of Australian diabetics getting recommended eye checks

TGA approves first pharma option for proliferative diabetic retinopathy