Dentists: less than 1 in 20 get sugar levels right

People with higher educational level linked to a healthier diet and awareness of food labels and sugar guidelines

A study carried out among 122 patients at dental screenings from the Mobile Dental Unit (MDU) or the University of Malta dental teaching clinics, revealed a low awareness of WHO sugar intake guidelines.

The study published in science journal Xjenza reported a low awareness of daily sugar intake guidelines, with one in four not even bothering to read food labels.

And while 42% did say they were aware of such guidelines, only 17.2% provided the correct answer: 20-30g of daily sugar intake.

Indeed, the study reveals awareness of foods that have high sugar content, such as soft drinks, desserts or meals considered ‘unhealthy’, but not of foods traditionally consumed at breakfast, such as cereals, dried fruits and flavoured yoghurts. Although these have high sugar content, they were still considered to be healthy food by most participants.

51% said they read food labels regularly, while 26.4% said they read them ‘sometimes’, and 23% said they did not read the food labels.

Of total respondents, just under 15% said they were unable to read the food labels. This was determined by presenting them with food label cut-outs for them to interpret, with 41.7% showing a very good level of knowledge and an additional 47.5% providing a partially correct answer.

Authors Laura Cuschieri, Maria Roxana Visan, Gabriella Gatt, Anne Marie Agius and Nikolai J Attard, from the Faculty of Dental Surgery, said the findings indicate the need for a better comprehension in reading nutritional labels, as well as visually improving and simplifying certain food labels.

However, it also turns out that those participants capable of reading labels were also more likely to exercise more often (71% weekly) against 33% in other groups.

And people with a higher educational level (36.7%) were linked to a healthier diet, when compared to participants with a lower educational level (18.7%).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, respondents with restored teeth were found to be significantly lower in respondents who were able to read labels.

On a daily basis, respondents said they most likely consumed vegetables (53%), fruit (38%), fish (25%) and poultry (6%); less than 1% said the consumed meat or pasta every day. But nearly half reported eating pasta or pizza once a week, while 36% ate meat twice or three times a week. In an indication of unhealthy diets, one in 10 said they ate fruits and vegetables less than once a week.

Participants ranked taste as the most important factor influencing food purchases, followed by low fat, price, low sugar, calories and branding.

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