An AUT study is recommending changes to government-backed eating guidelines for young people in order to reduce New Zealand’s epidemic of childhood tooth decay.
In a paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, AUT doctoral candidate and first author Sarah Hancock, says there is considerable evidence that common dietary behavior – high frequency consumption of ultra-processed, high carbohydrate foods – is the principal cause for both dental caries, and presentation of children and young people as overweight or obese. Conversely, consumption of full-fat dairy products by children and young people is associated with reduced risks of both tooth decay and obesity.
Ministry of Health endorsed dietary guidelines for young people correctly provide recommendations to decrease intake of high sugar foods. However as children age, recommendations are to increase the amount, and frequency of consumption of high carbohydrate food (such as bread, pasta, rice, tortillas and refined cereals) and to choose low fat dairy products.
“This advice directly contradicts evidence of the dietary causes of both dental caries and obesity and does not reflect the evidence regarding observed associations between the consumption of full fat dairy product and reduced caries and obesity.”
According to the study the consumption of processed sugars and starches, leads to increased insulin secretion and dysregulation of the satiety hormone leptin, resulting in a cycle of increased hunger and frequent food consumption that promotes weight gain
The paper recommends that guidelines for healthy eating should limit foods containing refined sugar and starch and instead should encourage eating whole foods including full fat diary items.
Hancock says, given that the epidemics of dental caries and obesity are a significant and ongoing public health challenge in New Zealand, it’s imperative that the guidelines for healthy eating for young New Zealanders incorporate the best dietary advice to improve their health. It is time to update the guidelines and include a dental focus to limit sugar and starch intake and to encourage intake of full-fat dairy products to prevent the epidemics of dental caries and obesity, which share a common cause.