Not So Sweet

Not So Sweet

Do you think sweet packets should carry cigarette-style health warnings featuring images of children’s decayed teeth to try and urge parents to cut down on the amount of high sugar foods they give their kids? The British Medical Association (BMA), senior health professionals and dentists have all recommended instating the warnings to The Health Secretary and Food Standards Agency but what do parents think of the idea?

Although Scotland is leading the way in the UK with its nursery toothbrushing programme, Childsmile, tooth decay – which is entirely preventable – still remains the number one reason why children are admitted to hospital and need general anaesthetic. In July this year, online magazine Dentistry.co.uk reported that 7,944 children (under 18 years) were admitted to hospital for dental extractions in 2015/16 and as many as 400 children with extensive tooth decay are stuck on a waiting list for urgent dental treatment for up to six months in greater Glasgow and Clyde. Warnings on cigarette packets have been compulsory since 2008 and have led to a fall in the numbers of adults who smoke. Health officials are now hoping a similar move on high sugar foods will also have a positive impact on children’s dental health and obesity levels.

Although Scotland is leading the way in the UK with its nursery toothbrushing programme, Childsmile, tooth decay – which is entirely preventable – still remains the number one reason why children are admitted to hospital and need general anaesthetic. In July this year, online magazine Dentistry.co.uk reported that 7,944 children (under 18 years) were admitted to hospital for dental extractions in 2015/16 and as many as 400 children with extensive tooth decay are stuck on a waiting list for urgent dental treatment for up to six months in greater Glasgow and Clyde. Warnings on cigarette packets have been compulsory since 2008 and have led to a fall in the numbers of adults who smoke. Health officials are now hoping a similar move on high sugar foods will also have a positive impact on children’s dental health and obesity levels.

A few of our commenters did think the idea of introducing images of rotten teeth to packets would be impactful. Mum Lisa Smith commented “I think it’s a
brilliant idea to give kids and parents an idea of future problems concerning too much sugar in a diet. My daughter is Type1 diabetic but gets upset as she can’t have as many sweets as her friends, although she can eat them. I have found that by thinking more about what she puts in her body, both of us look for alternatives and it means we get to spend time together looking for other ways for her to get a “sweet fix” in a healthier way, even if it means we bake buns with less sugar. So yes up to a point I agree it’s up to parents to promote healthy eating but surely pictures on packs could open up conversations between parents and kids and kids with their peers.” Similarly Jillian McCahon said, “This is a good idea. We may all know the impact on our health and our teeth but are still consuming too much sugar. So a reminder can only be a good thing.”

However overall the majority of our respondents were in disagreement, pointing out that it is the responsibility of parents and carers to educate children. Ruth Blair stated, “It is up to parents to teach their children that too many sweets, fizzy drinks with sugar are bad for their teeth.” Mel McConnell told us, “As a parent I teach my kids that sweets are a treat to be eaten in moderation. I teach them to look after their own teeth and how to brush them thoroughly, as does their dentist at their regular check-ups. I really don’t want them traumatised by pictures of rotting teeth on sweets that I give them as treats for good behaviour. It’s kind of giving them the mixed message that mummy is rewarding them with something that is going to harm them.” Linda McGibbon believes that ‘responsible parents should moderate their children’s sugar intake’, she told us, “Everyone knows that sugar is not something to be consumed in excess. We all take responsibility for our children, stop looking to the government to take away that responsibility and give us someone to blame when our children’s teeth rot and they become obese.” Liz Blair thought the idea was ‘a step too far’, saying, “As parents and grandparents we all know that sweets are a treat and we need to teach children a little of each and every thing we eat is not bad.” Jill McCall was in agreement that children should be allowed to have treats, and stated, “It’s up to parents and carers to educate and be responsible for the health of the kids. Life has to be enjoyed!”

Some of our audience were concerned about the undue stress and anxiety that could result from exposure to gruesome images. Mum Brenda Oneill said, “It’s up to parents to be responsible and teach good health habits to kids and not put any undue stress on children!” Serena McMeekin also observed “I don’t think that sweets should be tarnished with awful pictures. Children are innocent and this would take away the treat element.” And Jessica McCappin’s thoughts were that, “Kids should be allowed to be kids and not pressured to grow up so quickly. There are already too many negative pictures out there regarding image that emotionally affect and stress children.” Fiona McCusker also thinks that, “Children are too young to see such images”, while mum Anne McAlinden pointed out that there is “No need to try to put them off what is considered a treat.” Rosey Lions also made the point that “We shouldn’t associate fear or guilt with treat foods”, she added “We need to teach a healthy balance, then let them enjoy an occasional treat.” Susie Mcbride was also in complete agreement commenting, “Children have plenty of things to be anxious about nowadays, they don’t need any more added pressure. It’s mainly the parents at fault for too many sweets consumed, not the children, adding gruesome photos of decayed teeth is really not going to change anything!”

Many parents also thought the focus should be more on promoting good oral hygiene rather than using scare tactics. Naomi Marshall gave us her opinion, saying, “I don’t think some chocolate here and there causes fillings as much as poor dental hygiene does, anyway. What about some information on packaging encouraging children to practice good dental hygiene? I think you would get more from encouraging children to make the right choices than scaring them.” Catherine Elizabeth’s view was that pictures will “Undermine the sensitive way that parents, carers, teachers, nurses and health visitors teach good oral hygiene and the importance of a balanced diet.” The last word goes to dad Gary Toner who told us “Sweets are supposed to be a fun treat for kids, and I consider that the issue of teaching good dental hygiene is a parental responsibility.”

S4K’s View

It’s a shock factor but perhaps too much? Maybe a gentle warning message from the tooth fairy instead would be more appropriate. Ultimately sweets are supposed to be an occasional treat, not a food staple and if consumed in that way this really shouldn’t be necessary.

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