Make laws against excessive sugar

The things that we greatly enjoy eating or drinking also sometimes kill us, especially when consumed in excess. Refined sugar is one of those poisons, which experts associate with obesity and conditions like heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay.

Apart from mineral water and milk, sugar is added to virtually every non-alcoholic beverage on the market. Alcohol, of course, is sugar in another troublesome form.

Do you want to eat? The sheer variety makes you dizzy; from ice-cream to a thousand kinds of candy, cake and dubiously defined loaves of bread.

With our people buying far more sugary bread than the unsweetened varieties, it is very likely that a breakfast egg now sometimes finds itself lying between two slices of sweetened bread; the taste for sugar gone truly tasteless.

Makers of junk food know that most of their customers, especially children, lack the refined taste to distinguish between the merely sweet and the delicious. So the battle for customers tends to degenerate into a question of which concoction has more sugar, and possibly more colour.

Junk food makers stand where the tobacco companies stood a generation ago, cynically defending their aggressive advertising and marketing models, insisting that consumers had the freedom to choose between different brands, and not to smoke at all.

In reality, the strategy was to make smoking look glamorous; to lure the kids to try it and get addicted to nicotine, then grow and stay in the habit, making the tobacco millionaires richer.

Sugar is not addictive in the sense that nicotine is, and one can greatly reduce one’s sugar consumption without experiencing the kind of pathological craving that a withdrawal from nicotine triggers.

This means that the sugar industry people appear less wicked than the tobacco people when they say the choice belongs to the consumer; but it also means that the sugar people can push their advertising and marketing strategies more aggressively with greater impunity.

Also, because sugar is perceived as a lesser sin, governments and NGOs are more reluctant to fight the multi-billion industry. The implied losses in jobs and revenue would be politically harder to defend than with tobacco.
Which merchant finally delivers the goods to the consumer?

Balancing a large shallow plywood tray on his left arm in the taxi park, a hawker wanders about between the parked vehicles. He has all sorts of brightly colour-wrapped little articles in his tray. Then he spots a taxi with a mother holding a nursery-age youngster. With more luck, the lady has two other youngsters. They are from the village.

The hawker wants her money. So he draws closer to the open window and tilts the tray towards the children. He selects and playfully dangles one cheap candy after another.

The children look up and see the mother’s stern face. They survey the other faces in the taxi and notice that everybody is watching them. There are chemicals in their brains racing about. Divided between the fear of the mother’s wrath and the imagination of unwrapping as much of the candy as the mouth can hold, the youngest child begins to cry. Mother is very angry, but yields, and pays.

The supermarkets, which many obese youngsters frequent with their affluent parents on weekends and in festive seasons, have huge candy trays permanently located just before their cashiers’ tills.

The kids, who the supermarket operators hope are spoilt enough to manipulate their in-queue handlers until they have picked whatever chocolate they want to indulge their sweet tooth, do not disappoint. The parents smile, or scream, but usually pay. After all, they are already wheeling trolleys loaded with giant colas and other sweeties.

There is a case for legislation targeting excessive sugar in processed foods and drinks, as well as special education programmes for the citizens. Otherwise, Uganda must prepare for more sugar-damaged bodies.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
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