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'Dealing with sugar toxicity - accountability, addition and awareness' - Dr James Muecke AM, 2020 Australian of the Year

Posted on July 24 2020

The following is the last in a series of weekly guest posts from 2020 Australian of the Year, Dr James Muecke. 

About Dr Muecke

56-year-old Dr James Muecke AM is passionate about fighting blindness. His focus is the leading cause of blindness in working age adults – type 2 diabetes – a spiralling epidemic that in some regions of Australia is impacting over one-in-ten people. It's also the fastest growing cause of vision loss in Aboriginal people and the sixth-biggest killer in this country. James wants to challenge our perception of sugar and its toxic impact on the development of type 2 diabetes.

James co-founded Sight For All, a social impact organisation aiming to create a world where everyone can see. Sight For All’s comprehensive and sustainable educational strategies are impacting on the lives of over one million people each year. 

With 80% of world blindness avoidable – and almost 90% in low income countries – James treats blindness as a human rights issue.

This is the last piece in this series, to read the previous message click here

Dealing with sugar toxicity - accountability, addition and awareness

Making sweet products less obvious and accessible in supermarkets, delicatessens, post offices and service stations is a good idea – moving them away from check-out counters means that those reflex purchases are less likely to happen. Vending machines dispensing sugary food and drinks should be removed from government buildings, schools and universities.

A system for clear labelling of the added sugar content of products should be implemented – the current nutritional guidelines on packaging offer no insight into the amount of added sugar contained within. In Australia, we have a five-star health rating system, which is voluntary, and as such is flawed. What manufacturer would voluntarily put a low rating on a food that it’s trying to sell? And there are a number of unhealthy products which are incorrectly rated as healthy – for example, orange juice receives five stars, and yet a glass of orange juice has nearly as much sugar as a glass of cola. I like the idea of a ‘traffic light’ rating for the level of added sugar, where red = harmful, orange = think twice, green = safe.

Applying a levy to products containing high levels of added sugar should also be considered. There’s good evidence and sound reasoning behind this. Sugar sweetened beverages have been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, and there’s now strong, increasing and consistent evidence that a levy on sweet drinks will effectively reduce consumption. Such a levy would also help to offset the massive cost to our health system and raise much-needed revenue for awareness initiatives.

Advertising time and space for sugary products should be minimised, starting with the cessation of such adds targeting children on the internet and free-to-air TV and all the places our kids see the pernicious promotion of sugary products as “normal”. Adds promoting such products should also be removed from government facilities and services such as trams and buses.

Hard-hitting multi-media awareness strategies should be introduced, as we have done for cigarettes, to inform the public of the far-reaching health dangers of sugar and the very serious complications of type 2 diabetes – check out Sight For All’s TV commercial at

It’s easy to nominate now for the 2021 Awards, just complete the online nomination form at


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