He’s basically like a mockney version of Leonidas in 300. This anti-sweetness Spartan has decided to go head to head with an enemy that is ubiquitous, surreptitious and deadly. Yes, Jamie Oliver is ‘taking on sugar’.
To that end, Channel 4 has given us Jamie’s Sugar Rush. Jamie isn’t the first to make a film about the dangers of sugar. There have been quite a few in recent years on TV. Aussie D-list actor Damon Gameau gave us the patronising and frequently inaccurate That Sugar Film. But Jamie is far more influential. Jamie’s Sugar Rush has attracted enormous advance coverage in the press, almost all of it fawning. The Guardian’s overexcited TV reviewer, Sam Wollaston, declares, ‘I’d put him in charge of the country, let him get his head round that and sort it out. School dinners, Rotherham, sugar, Britain.’ Gosh.
First off, Jamie’s Sugar Rush presents us with a child suffering, in order to get the audience onside. Meet Mario, a six-year-old boy having multiple tooth extractions under anaesthetic. He’s a healthy boy who regularly cleans his teeth, but he has a weakness for sugary drinks. So we watch as he has six teeth yanked out in an operating theatre. When he wakes up, he understandably cries in pain. It’s not just Mario’s teeth that are getting tugged; it’s our heartstrings, too. Richard Porter, a consultant dentist at St George’s Hospital, tells Jamie that extracting 20 teeth from one child is ‘unexceptional’, and, if children carry on consuming sugary drinks, their ‘adult’ teeth may all have to come out as well and they will be left with dentures for the rest of their lives.
Pulling teeth like this costs the NHS £30million per year. Porter points out that this is the biggest single reason for children being in hospital today. But this is only part of the story. As it happens, infant tooth extraction would have happened in dental surgeries in the past. It’s just that it is now compulsory to bring children into hospital when they need to go under anaesthetic. So pulling kids’ teeth isn’t new – the hospital figures reflect changing medical practice as much as the state of our children’s teeth.
We are not living through an epidemic of decay. As a report by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), published in January 2015, points out: ‘Oral health has improved significantly since the 1970s owing to greater awareness of its importance and the widespread availability of fluoride.’ While that report points to sugar consumption as a problem, regular brushing, regular visits to a dentist and fluoridation of water supplies could prevent tooth decay. In Scotland, Childsmile, a programme of monitored tooth-brushing, preventative treatment and dietary advice in ‘disadvantaged communities’ has, according to the RCS, cost £1.8million to implement but saved £6million in dental treatment. If a particular child’s teeth are so bad that the only recourse is to extract them, then that represents a failure of preventative healthcare, not the evils of sugar. But you would never draw such a conclusion from watching Jamie’s Sugar Rush. No, it’s all down to having ‘too much sugary shit in our environment’, according to Jamie.