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    Sugar, diabetes and vision loss

    Australian of the Year urges Aussies to slash sugar to save their sight.

    Leading ophthalmologist’s warning on sugar

    Dr James Muecke joined MDFA’s webinar series to reveal his plan to combat the leading cause of blindness among working-age Australians.

    Dr James Muecke has been an ophthalmologist for more than three decades.

    And with every passing year, the 2020 Australian of the Year sees more and more people lose their vision to diabetes – particularly type 2 diabetes – caused by too much sugar in our modern diet.

    Although Dr Muecke has witnessed growing numbers of patients blinded by this largely preventable dietary disease, one specific case sticks with him.

    “Can you even begin to imagine waking up one morning completely blind? Impossible to comprehend, isn’t it,” Dr Muecke told a recent MDFA webinar.

    “One of my patients has had exactly that experience. His name is Neil Hansell. He’s an everyday Aussie bloke with a wife and four kids, he constructs light machinery for a living, and he also has type 2 diabetes.

    “A few years ago, at the age of 50, diabetes changed Neil’s world forever.

    “Unfortunately, he’d neglected his disease. He paid the price. He went to bed one evening with normal sight and woke up the next morning blind in both eyes.

    “One of my colleagues worked really hard to try and retrieve his sight. Unfortunately, it was too late. He was to spend the rest of his life in darkness.”

    Diabetes and vision loss

    Neil is one of the 1.7 million Australians with diabetes. One in three people over the age of 50 with diabetes has diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness among working-age Australians.

    More than two million Australians will be living with diabetes by 2025.

    This expected growth will lead to a corresponding rise in diabetic retinopathy and vision loss.

    “I have no doubt that the diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods is driving this tragedy,” Dr Muecke explained.

    “What are we going to do about this enormous and growing problem? Well, if we’re going to call it a dietary disease, then there should be a dietary cure. It should be as simple as reducing our intake of sugar.

    “However, there are a number of factors that make this a more difficult thing to achieve- I call them the five As of sugar toxicity: addiction, alleviation, accessibility, addition and advertising.”

    Dr Muecke’s plan to fight diabetes

    And the 2020 Australian of the Year has a plan to tackle each of the five As.

    • Addiction: break people’s dependency on sugar using the same strategies as smoking, such as raising awareness, self-help groups, helplines and counselling
    • Alleviation: encourage people to find other healthier ways to replace the dopamine rush they get from sugar, like exercise and music
    • Accessibility: remove sugary products from vending machines and junk food from checkout counters to make these products harder to find
    • Addition: make nutritional labels easier to read with clear indication of the amount of added sugar, and impose a tax on heavily sugared products
    • Advertising: ban junk food ads and TV commercials targeting kids, and release public campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption and the devastating complications of type 2 diabetes

    “As a society, we have to do something. We’ve got to make people aware that the more sugar we take, the worse it’s going to get,” Dr Muecke said.

    Posted: 17 November 2020

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