Sugar Elf spreads healthy dental hygiene message

A GROUND-BREAKING initiative focused on the harmful effects of hidden, added sugar has been proving a success in schools across lower Annandale.

ShELF the Sugar sees primary pupils engaged by the cheeky ‘Sugar Elf’ and a visiting team of health professionals who explain how too much sugar in the diet can result in issues such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as well as poor oral health which can result in difficulty with eating and speaking and an increased risk of many potentially fatal conditions. 

Annan-based Health Improvement Worker Yvonne McGregor said: “We’re delighted with how effective the initiative has been so far, as we’re seeing children becoming really engaged and really taking on board the information.

“As the campaign continues, we’re now keen to see parents get involved – to ask that they support the messages aimed at helping improve children’s health, and to share with them the same information – some of which can be quite shocking and concerning.”

ShELF the Sugar is a local initiative developed through a partnership between Annandale and Eskdale Health Improvement Team and local primary schools.

And as part of the move to engage parents more fully, an event has been scheduled at Gretna Primary School at 1.30 pm on Thursday February 28 – encouraging adults to come along and hear about the work, and the health concerns facing children.

Carrutherstown, Cummertrees and Gretna primary schools have been part of the ShELF the Sugar initiative. And in addition to the visits by the Team, the schools have been pioneering their own local projects.

At Carrutherstown Primary, this has included a loyalty snack scheme which encourages children to bring in healthier, no-added-sugar snacks – with this now being rolled out across all the schools involved in the initiative.

Carrutherstown teacher Mrs Farrell said: “Children in Dumfries and Galloway are not alone in facing the risk of having too much sugar in their diets, much of which can be hidden in foods and snacks.

“However, the region was recently revealed to have the highest rate of overweight or obese P1s across the whole of Scotland – standing at 27 per cent.

“As well as this, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in children is also on the rise, with a 25 per cent increase recorded within the past five years.

“It’s important that we do everything we can to ensure these children have the best chance of a healthy future, and are informed about the benefit of a balanced diet.

“To achieve this, though, we really need parents to share that understanding, and support an approach which appears to be delivering results. And we need them to encourage and support children to continue their approach to making these positive changes at home, as well as at school.”

Jacqueline Bell is an NHS Dental Health Officer in Annandale and Eskdale, and through ShELF the Sugar has been helping to promote messages about the impact of sugar on oral health.

She said: “It’s very important to involve parents. By the time pupils start school at the age of five it would be great that they understood that daily brushing, regular visits to the dentist and healthy diet is a part of everyday life.”

Parents from across the area are encouraged to attend the event at Gretna Primary at 1.30 pm next Thursday .

To find out more, contact Health Improvement Worker Yvonne Mcgregor on 01461 204741.