Dental students alert children to hidden sugar

For many years, fat has been recognised as the ‘bogeyman’ in our diets. But recently sugar has been identified as the real culprit.  According to the latest figures, the average Briton consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week – often without even realising that are doing so.

In order to make local schoolchildren more aware of the dangers of hidden sugar in what they eat and drink, a group of dental students at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry have been working with pupils from St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Devonport.

The dental students began by running an awareness event for year five and six schoolchildren, at Devonport Library in Plymouth. They used pre-existing diet sheets to find out how much sugar the youngsters were consuming, but soon found that the exercise did not work as well as it should because the diet sheets were not engaging enough.

Once they had identified this shortfall, the students devised more creative, interactive ways of engaging with primary school children, which they then took into St Joseph’s – at the same time incorporating ideas from the pupils themselves. The student group is also working on an app to help youngsters log what they are eating and drinking, and that will also calculate the amount of sugar they are consuming.

Second-year dental student Sarah Benton, who is part of the group working with pupils at St Joseph’s, said: ‘Given the recent media interest in the role of sugar in our diet, our project is very timely. There are obvious sources of sugar – sweets, fizzy drinks – but there are also lots of incidences of hidden sugar, especially in manufactured items such as bread and ready meals. Our work is helping schoolchildren to be more aware of where the dangers lurk, and what the alternatives might be.’

As well as having a detrimental effect on the health of teeth and gums, increased sugar consumption is also having an impact on the rise in incidences of type 2 diabetes and associated illnesses.

Robert Witton, clinical lead in social engagement, Peninsula Social Dental Enterprise, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, added: ‘This particular project is part of what we call our Inter Professional Engagement programme, where groups of dental students work with a variety of groups within the community to identify oral health issues and find ways in which to address them. Our thanks go to organisations such as St Joseph’s that allow us to work so closely with them.’

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