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The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists says too much sugar consumption means many Australians are literally eating themselves blind.

Saturday 14 November is World Diabetes Day, and this year the ASO is reminding people across Australia that diabetes, and blindness due to diabetes, is not only treatable but preventable.

With nearly one in ten Australians now impacted by diabetes, and diabetes-related eye disease the leading cause of blindness among adults in this country, the ASO says it’s time to look closely at the risk of eye damage from consuming too much sugar.

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A matter of time

It’s been known for many years that the longer people suffer from diabetes, the more likely they are to develop damage to the retina.

With nearly one-third of children in Australia now overweight or obese, the ASO says we’re preparing a deadly, blinding cocktail for the future – with sugar as its main ingredient.

Dr James Muecke AM is an ophthalmologist, ASO spokesperson, and Australian of the Year for 2020.

‘Our sugar-laden diet is responsible for more disease and death than inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined,’ said Dr Muecke.

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Fighting blindness

Dr Muecke was awarded Australian of the Year at the start of this year for his work in fighting blindness in poor communities, particularly blindness caused by type 2 diabetes – 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. People’s eating habits became even unhealthier than they previously had been.

Now, with the vast majority of Australians over the worst of the potential COVID-19 catastrophe, the ASO believes 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.

He believes it’s 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 having their sight-saving eye checks,’ Dr Muecke said.

‘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.’

Diabetes-related blindess is on the rise – Pexels

Looking forward to a sight-filled future

With 2020 bringing about a major rethink 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 by adopting a healthier, lower-sugar life, for a brighter future.

They say governments also need to take action to reduce 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.

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Sugar tax?

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.’

This week, the ASO said this intervention is still urgently needed if we are to avoid an epidemic of diabetes-related blindness in the future.