“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,” – Dr James Muecke AM, ophthalmologist, ASO spokesperson and Australian of the Year 2020
The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) is urging people to drastically reduce their sugar intake in order to avoid potential blindness.
Saturday November 14 is World Diabetes Day and the ASO is reminding people right across Australia that diabetes, and indeed blindness due to diabetes, is not only treatable but preventable.
Nearly one in ten Australians are impacted by diabetes, and diabetes-related eye disease is the leading cause of blindness among working age adults in this country.
Shockingly, the longer you suffer from diabetes, the more likely you are to develop damage to the retina.
With nearly one-third of children in Australia now overweight or obese, it seems that we are currently preparing a deadly, blinding cocktail for 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,” Dr Muecke said.
Governments also need to take action to reduce our over-consumption of sugar.
As far back as 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 (and 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 our President may have changed, the need for such interventions has not.
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.
Australian of the Year was more forgotten rather than foregrounded and people’s eating habits became even unhealthier than they previously had been.
However, 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 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,” said Dr Muecke.
It is also vitally important that people who suffer from diabetes have regular eye checks.
“Well over half of the 1.7 million people with diabetes in Australia aren’t have their sight-saving eye checks,” Dr Muecke explains.
“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.”
2020 has brought about a major rethink and shift in how we live our lives on so many levels.
The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists 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 are assured a brighter, more-sight-filled future.