Bringing medical
projects to life.

Our Story

Medthink can help your medical project become a reality.

Medthink offer a range of bespoke services to enhance your medical business, whether it be a device company, pharmaceutical organisation or clinical practice.

Medthink will work closely with you to achieve your goals and future direction.

Dr James Muecke AM

James uses his broad expertise in medical research, education, and project management, coupled with writing, photography, music and film production, marketing and social entrepreneurship, to help bring medical projects to life.

He has worked as a visiting medical consultant for over twenty years at the Royal Adelaide and Women’s & Children’s Hospitals and in his own private practice in Adelaide.

James has undertaken ophthalmic projects in eleven low-income countries in Asia and Africa. He co-founded the not-for-profit social impact organisation Sight For All, which he has chaired since 2009.

For his humanitarian efforts, James was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012. In 2015 he was EY’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year for Australia, and in 2019 received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Adelaide. James is the current Australian of the Year for 2020.

James is a passionate and at times confronting keynote speaker, drawing on over 30 years of medical experience working in some of the poorest countries in the world.

 

Mena Muecke OAM

Mena throughout her career has built a reputation for having a diverse set of design and management skills. With over 20 years’ experience as an interior architect, her design development, space planning and project management work has been applied to many corporate and hospitality projects in both the residential and commercial sectors.

In 2008, Mena refocused her energies to join James in championing the fight against blindness in Australia and abroad with the social impact organisation Sight For All.

In her voluntary role as Events Director, Mena has created several iconic and unique events which have collectively raised over one million dollars for improving eye health care in low income countries. Mena also plays a vital role in the marketing and publicity of Sight For All and is a co-founder of the Vision 1000 social investment initiative. For her humanitarian efforts, Mena was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2018.

Mena loves a challenge and is very passionate about development, project management, and brand creation and promotion.

Our Services

Brand Ambassadorship

Communication is a key ingredient in marketing these days, and the spoken word remains the most powerful means of communicating your ideas and infecting people with your passion. As a Brand Ambassador, James can help promote your service or product through persuasive presentations and powerful video content. Reach your target audience and put your business at the forefront of the health industry.

Contact James if you’d like to speak to him about communicating your next great medical idea.

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Keynote Presentations

James is an enthusiastic and engaging keynote speaker, and is keen to speak at your next event.

Following his medical internship in 1988, James lived and worked as a doctor in Africa and subsequently as an eye surgeon in the Middle East, battling malaria, wild animals, rebel soldiers, and insurgent groups. He founded Sight For All in 2008, turning his passion and boundless energy into a fight against blindness in the Aboriginal and mainstream communities of Australia and some of the poorest countries of the world.

In 2016, James had to prematurely retire from surgery as a result of a neurological disability that impaired the function of his dominant hand.  Throughout his career, he has been a researcher, a teacher, an author, a musician, a photographer, and a film creator, and uses his many skills to deliver passionate, fascinating, and at times confronting presentations about his life, work, philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship.

Contact James if you’d like him to speak at your next corporate or medical event.

Keynote topics

Forging resilience – a personal and global journey

James’ career as an eye surgeon, humanitarian and social entrepreneur has enriched his life with extraordinary characters and confronting experiences. He has witnessed powerful stories of resilience that he wants to share with the world – a man who woke blind in both eyes, a group of disabled children in an impoverished country, and a global health crisis crying out for help. And through the re-telling of his own story of loss, James explores the critical elements needed to build resilience, at all levels.

 

Harnessing your passion to change the world – the art and science of social entrepreneurship

James is an eye surgeon, humanitarian and social entrepreneur, and for 30 years has been fighting blindness in Australia and some of the poorest countries of the world. In this fascinating and at times confronting keynote presentation, James uses powerful stories from his work with social impact organisation Sight For All, to outline the three key elements of social entrepreneurship – a spirit of adventure, a humanitarian spirit, and an entrepreneurial spirit. He also discusses the ingredients that make up an entrepreneurial spirit and how you can harness your passion and use these ingredients to change the world for better.

 

Blinded by Sugar – the toxic impact of sugar and the rise of type 2 diabetes

Blinded By Sugar tells the story of Neil Hansell, a man who woke one morning blind in both eyes due to neglect of his diabetes. In this confronting 20-minute keynote presentation, Dr Muecke discusses why type 2 diabetes is a growing worldwide epidemic and explores a number of strategies to curb the toxic impact of sugar on our health and on our world. (there are versions of this keynote designed for parents and teachers)

See below for past major keynote presentations.

Testimonials

“As an Australian of the Year, James Muecke is a one-in-25.7-million man. This distinction was earned not only by his exceptional qualities as a star ophthalmologist but as one with an awe-inspiring humanitarian outreach to the vision needs of the Third World. He has subsidised his charity work with the skills of his third eye, the camera lens, and photographic art ventures. But what brought him to the 2020 headlines was a First World problem – sugar, an insidiously addictive substance which is killing and maiming millions through type 2 diabetes and obesity. And, as he lost the manual dexterity he needed as an ophthalmic surgeon, Dr Muecke turned his medical intellect and his physical impetus towards helping humanity on an even greater scale by confronting this scourge of affluenza. Thus has the gentle doctor become a ferocious advocate, proselytising a low-sugar, low-carb revolution and going to war against the giants of the “it’s-in-everything” corporate food and beverage world – even going so far as to dare to suggest a tax on sugar. “Brave” does not begin to describe this man.

Samela Harris, SA journalist, critic, blogger and member of the Journalists’ Hall of Fame

 

“Dr James Muecke AM recently presented to our ‘Leadership in Action’ series, delivering his virtual presentation Forging Resilience to the Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force. James’ presentation was truly inspirational, providing insights into his 32 year medical career and his extraordinary life journey as an eye surgeon and humanitarian. His messages on resilience were very clear, finding new ways to innovate and move forward, grasping every opportunity and adventure in life. By keeping a positive mindset and being thankful for three things each day makes us stronger to face life’s challenges”.

Learning & Events Management Team, Department of Home Affairs

 

“Dr James Muecke AM was invited to deliver the 2020 Australian Society for Medical Research AWT Edwards Memorial Oration at the 59th National Scientific Conference. While originally scheduled as a face-to-face event which had to adapt to a completely virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, James seamlessly adapted to deliver a wonderful and meaningful address sharing his inspiring messages about harnessing your passion to change the world with our attendees from the health and medical research community. James’ oration was delivered in an engaging and dynamic way highlighting the importance of drawing on entreprenurial spirit to change the world for the better.”

Dr Erin McGillick, Co-convener, National Scientific Conference

 

“What a privilege it was to have Dr James Muecke, 2020 Australian of the Year, speak to the community of his old school on the occasion of the inaugural CGS Gough Whitlam Address, an annual event intended to inspire young agents of change through the example of those from the School before them who have gone on to make a difference in the world. Connecting easily and personally with the students, James sketched the arc of his journey from childhood through Africa, Asia and Australia, repaying his life’s good fortune through skill and passion in the fight against blindness.  It was a great pleasure to see his humour and candour, dignity and determination ignite in our students their own sense of adventure and their realisation of how deeply they may give to the lives around them.  I cannot thank James enough.”

Dr Justin Garrick, Head of School, Canberra Grammar School

 

“It was an honour to have Dr James Muecke AM deliver our inaugural Vision 2020 Australia Barry Jones Vision Oration in October 2020. Dr Muecke is an expert and engaging speaker. His breadth of experience, depth of knowledge, and ability to combine entertaining anecdotes with insightful and thought provoking content was extremely well received by our diverse audience, a number of whom have already indicated they are intending to seek him out to participate in future events.”

Judith Abbott, CEO Vision 2020 Australia

 

“Flinders University was honoured that Dr. James Muecke accepted our invitation to give the 12th Southgate Oration. The title of the oration was ‘Blinded by Sugar’ and drew on clinical and public health knowledge and evidence. Dr. Muecke described the massive increase in diabetes globally in last 40 years and  reminded us that there are 250 new cases of type 2 diabetes every day and an 80 times increase for Indigenous people as colonialism removed traditional healthy diets and replaced it with unhealthy-diabetes causing diets. He identified diabetes  as the main causes of blindness in working age Australian adults. Dr. Muecke brought the topic alive with stories of patients and how their lives could have been different had they not been exposed to an environment rich in sugar. The oration was especially notable in that he provided an important role model of a medical practitioner who is able to move from their specialist knowledge about the body (in his case the eye) and see beyond the clinic to the broader picture, the way in which society organises its food supply. He note the importance of using a range of public health measures to reduce the amount of sugar in diets including through taxation and dietary guidelines. His oration was inspiring and the recording made of it will be used to introduce health professional students to the idea of social accountability in medicine. Dr. Muecke delivered the oration in a very engaging manner and drew on his own experience to consider the difficulties of avoiding sugary products in our society.”

Prof Fran Baum, Director Southgate Institute for Health 

 

“James delivered a fabulous keynote presentation for our Newday 2020 Reimagining Leadership eSeries. We received outstanding feedback.
James provides an engaging, entertaining presentation with valuable and practical tips on how to harness your passion to change the world.
Highly recommend James as a speaker for any industry event.”

Katrina Webb, Director NewDay

 

“Thanks James for sharing your story of social entrepreneurship with our senior leaders. Your story is one of the best lessons in resilience and belief driving action to make a real difference in our society and community. We could have listened to you all day – it was not just an engaging and interesting talk, but your humility, passion and the way you talk about the work you’ve done across the world left us all feeling inspired.”

Craig Drummond, CEO, Medibank

 

“It was a wonderful opportunity to hear from James, and I know that many of us listening were too emotionally moved to speak or ask a question. If we all took a moment to reflect more often on our lives I am quite sure we would all be surprised that each and every one of us can recall a moment, a time, a situation where resilience has been our saviour – and gathered unknowingly the strength to accept, embrace and go forward. James has himself applied in all he spoke about and more and his story is uplifting and heart-warming and sends a message of survival against many odds. We all do have a story to tell and James has reiterated this so very well in his talk to us today”

Lipman Karas Lawyers 2020

 

“James inspired the business leaders in the SA Leaders network to ‘harness their passion to change the world’ through a webinar that was engaging, powerful and truly inspirational.  Each of our members manage and operate growing businesses across a wide range of industry sectors, and the intent of the session was to engage business leaders to think beyond, to make an impact in their business, personal life, local community and beyond.  James achieved this through his ability to story-tell, engage the audience with humour, and truly inspire. His real story is evidence to others that you can change the world. Everyone walked away with a new perspective ”.

SA Leaders 2020

 

“James Muecke has an inspiring and courageous story to tell.  He engages his audience in a way that invites them to walk in his shoes and share his experiences as if they were there.  His webinar presentation was engaging and involved the attendees as if they were present in the room.  There were multiple comments from the audience throughout the presentation that indicated they were fully engaged and enjoyed hearing about his remarkable journey.”

Matt Davey, SA Leaders 2020

 

“We asked James to inspire our groups with a presentation and discussion on social entrepreneurship. Although all of our members come from a business background, the topic was relevant and engaging. James spent the afternoon with our members and provided a forum for people to think outside of their own business and how they can make an impact within and outside of their own communities, whether they be business or personal. James is an experienced and engaging speaker and importantly provides a message that is needed across society as a whole. Inspiration is one thing but to provide a message that motivates is so much better. I would recommend James to anybody seeking these aspects in a speaker and The Executive Roundtable members certainly appreciated everything James had to say.”

Executive Roundtable forum 2019

 

“James is a true inspiration that oozes passion and dedication, which can be seen in everything that he does. The City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters had the pleasure of working with James Muecke AM to launch the inaugural Raising the Bar Entrepreneurship event in the world in October 2019.
James is personable, pro-active and was a delight to work with through every stage of the event. James’ ability to deliver an engaging, funny and inspiring talk was second to none and showed that if you have a passion for something, you truly can, change the world. As a speaker, James earns the Council’s highest recommendation.”

Raising The Bar Entrepreneurship 2019

 

“Dr James Muecke provided an insightful guest speaker presentation that was specifically tailored to our conference theme and aligned with our group messaging.  The presentation focussing on using your passion and social entrepreneurship to create change was thought provoking and encouraging.  The presentation was relevant and interesting for all delegates and we look forward to welcoming James back in the future.”

Nova Group Conference 2019

 

“James was a keynote speaker at the 2017 Social Capital Conference, a peak event for the social innovation and entrepreneurship community. His address held the audience spellbound – and received a steady flow of praise for quite some time after the event. James has the rare ability to seamlessly present both a strong rational case for change, and to humanise it. His combination of deep professional insight and personal stories is powerful. Certainly, the tremendous and selfless work he, and the Sight for All team, are doing is a story that many more people must hear.”

Professor David Paterson, Co-Founder & Chair, Social Capital

 

“I organised and was the MC of the Social Capital Conference in Adelaide in July 2017, one of the key events of Entrepreneurs Week, attracting some 250 attendees. James Muecke was one of our keynote presenters. I was fortunate to witness him from the stage and I could see how his powerful story resonated with our audience. In the breaks and also in days following the conference, I spoke with numerous people who spoke of how James’s talk and the excellent presentation media had a powerful impact, with many noting it was the conference’s stand-out keynote.”

Matthew Wright-Simon, Engagement Lead, Social Capital

 

“James Muecke is a captivating speaker. His superb storytelling, global perspective and passion for his field is a powerful combination. He engages easily with his audience, as demonstrated by his recent presentation to the Celebrating 50 Years of ASEAN Business Forum in Adelaide. He would be a valuable contribution to any event seeking an intelligent and thought-provoking edge.”

Belinda Heggen, former national broadcaster, public speaking and presentation coach, MC for Celebrating 50 Years of ASEAN Business Forum 2017

 

“The 2017 Australian Medical Students’ Association’s Global Health Conference attracted over 750 medical students from around Australia, New Zealand and the wider Pacific region. In full attendance, the delegates were delighted to welcome Dr James Muecke AM who spoke of his experience working outside Australia with his not-for-profit organisation, Sight For All. He provided practical advice and examples about the challenges and rewards of running a non-governmental health organisation, as well as inspiring stories of the positive impact that a few committed and enthusiastic individuals can achieve. Delegates were captivated by his engaging style of presentation, with images from his work overseas accompanied by anecdotes as well as key information about the population and diseases concerned. Afterwards, many delegates expressed their enjoyment of Dr Muecke’s engaging session. It provided a rare insight into the daily activities of a medical NGO, and demonstrated that a doctor does not need to be a public health physician to make a tangible impact on global health issues. I can wholeheartedly recommend Dr Muecke as a motivating, engaging and informative speaker.”

Annie Collinson, Academic Convenor, AMSA Global Health Conference 2017

 

“Dr James Muecke delivered the Hollows Lecture at the RANZCO Congress in 2016. As the invited speaker for this prestigious lecture, he gave a thoughtful presentation of his journey in ophthalmology which has led to the growth and success of Sight For All as an international development agency. It was a great example of the positive impact that eye surgery can have on not only those receiving, but those giving.”

David Andrews, CEO, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists

Past major keynotes

2021

University of Adelaide Graduation Ceremony, April

Rotary D9510 District Conference, April

Rotary D9675 District Conference, March

Optometry Blue Sky, February

2020

– Australian Society for Medical Research AWT Edwards Memorial Oration at the 59th National Scientific Conference, November

– Canberra Grammar School Gough Whitlam Address, October

– Vision 2020 Barry Jones Vision Oration, October

– Flinders University Southgate Oration, October

– NewDay Summit webinar, July

– Medibank Private, Executive Team webinar, July

– Australian Taxation Office, Executive Team webinar, June

– Showcase SA lunch, June

– Nova Systems, webinar June

– SA Leaders, webinar May

– AmCham Australia, webinar May

– Showcase SA, webinar May

– Lions National Conference, webinar May

– Public Health Association of Australia National Conference, webinar May

– The George Institute of Health Sciences, webinar May

2019

– Executive Roundtable, December

– Trinity College Speech Day, December

– Raising The Bar Entrepreneurship Event, Adelaide, October

– Nova Systems Annual Group Conference, Adelaide, August

2010-17

– Australian Medical Student’s Association’s Global Health Conference, Adelaide, August 2017

– Social Capital Conference, Adelaide, July 2017

– ASEAN’s 50 Years Celebration Business Forum Dinner, Adelaide, March 2017

– United Nations Youth’ Annual Conference, Adelaide, March 2016

– Hollows Lecture: Cataract and Beyond, RANZCO Annual Congress, Melbourne, November 2016

– Medical Technology Association of Australia’s Annual Conference Dinner, Sydney, November 2015

– TEDx Talk: Restoring sight, alleviating poverty, saving lives, Adelaide, November 2015

– University Senior College’s Graduation Ceremony, Adelaide, December 2014

– Slipperyfish’s Positive Lunch Club, Adelaide, July 2014

– Flinders University Surgical Society’ Beyond Borders, Adelaide, July 2013

– Australian Institute of Project Management, Adelaide, April 2013

– Trinity College’s Annual Awards Ceremony, Adelaide, December 2011

– Scotch College Junior School’s End of Year Ceremony, Adelaide, December 2010

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Medical Projects


Medthink can help bring your medical projects to life.

There are many ways we can help you achieve your goals, whether it be a medical facility, the development of a device or app, or content creation for your business. We also have the skills to launch your product, service or business.

James utilises his expertise in medical research, education, infrastructure support and health awareness, coupled with writing, photography, and music & film production. Mena draws on her experience as a commercial interior architect, event planner and project manager. Together they will work within your brief to deliver a solution that is perfect for you.

Contact Medthink if you’d like to speak to the team about making your next medical project a reality.

Current Projects

– The Specialists is a documentary series, currently in production, that explores the fascinating and yet mysterious lives of medical specialists. Episode 1 features Dr Than Htun Aung, a paediatric eye surgeon who is leading the way in the fight against childhood blindness in Myanmar. Please visit the Our Library page to view the teaser for the documentary which will be launched in early 2020.

 

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Medical Stories

Medthink loves to create and share powerful medical stories. With a strong skill set in documentary film making, content creation, and photojournalism, we can work with you to capture the essence of your vision.

Contact Medthink if you’d like us to create your next medical story.

Short films

James has produced a number of short films, many for the not-for-profit organisation Sight For All:

Little Bang’s New Eye, set in Vietnam and featuring a family from an ethnic minority group, tells the story of a young girl battling a rare form eye cancer. The award-winning film has been played at a number of international film festivals.

Please Don’t Rush is a deeply moving film set in a school for the blind in Lao that delivers an extraordinary insight into the world of blind children. It was selected for the New York and St Kilda Film Festivals.

Eyes is an award-winning music video featuring a song by Aboriginal hip hop artist Caper, using the spoken word to deliver powerful messages about eye health.

Please visit the Our Library section of this website for a wider selection of Medthink’s short films.

Documentaries

Medthink are currently producing and co-directing a documentary highlighting the ground-breaking work of a paediatric ophthalmologists’ fight against childhood blindness in Myanmar.

Photojournalism

Combining travel writing and photography has always been a passion of James’s:

Chin State Odyssey tells the story of a medical team travelling to a remote region of Myanmar to establish an eye clinic for Sight For All.

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Our Library

Stories

Please visit again to read our first story.

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Nutrition Books

My weapons of choice Below is a list, in alphabetical order, of selected books and recommended reading in the nutrition/dietary space:

  • Claire Bailey - The Fast 800 Recipe Book
  • Maggie Beer - Maggie’s Recipes for Life
  • Amy Berger & Richard Westman - End Your Carb Confusion
  • Richard Bernstein - Diabetes Solution
  • Ken Berry - Lies My Doctor Told Me
  • Ben Bikman - Why We Get Sick
  • Mark Bittman - Animal, Vegetable, Junk
  • Dale Bredesen - The End of Alzheimer’s
  • Peter Brukner - A Fat Lot of Good
  • Travis Christofferson - Tripping Over the Truth; Ketones, The Fourth Fuel: Warburg to Krebs to Veech
  • Christine Cronau - Bring Back the Fat
  • Ivor Cummins & Jeffry Gerber - Eat Rich, Live Long
  • William Davis - Wheat Bell
  • Romy Dolle - Fruit Belly
  • Andreas Eenfeldt - Low Carb, High Fat Food Revolution
  • Jennifer Elliot - The key to successfully managing type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Richard David Feinman - Nutrition in Crisis
  • Dr Jason Fung - The Diabetes Code; The Obesity Code; The Complete Guide to Fasting
  • Damon Gameau - That Sugar Book
  • David Gillespie - Sweet Poison; Big Fat Lies
  • Zoe Harcombe - The Obesity Epidemic; Diabetes Unpacked
  • Lierre Keith - The Vegetarian Myth
  • Marty Kendall - Big Fat Keto Lies
  • Robert Lustig - Fat Chance; Metabolical
  • Dr Aseem Malhotra - The 21 Day Immunity Plan; The Pioppi Diet
  • Denise Minger - Death by Food Pyramid
  • David R Montgomery - Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations
  • Michael Mosley - The Fast 800
  • Michael Moss - Salt, Sugar, Fat; Hooked - how processed food became addictive
  • Ted Naiman - The P:E Diet
  • Lily Nichols - Real Food for GD
  • Tim Noakes - Diabetes unpacked; Challenging Beliefs: Memoirs of a Career; The Real Meal Revolution; Super Food For Superchildren
  • David Perlmutter - Grain Brain
  • Uffe Ravnskov - Cholesterol Myths
  • Diana Rodgers - Sacred Cow
  • Paul Saladino - The Carnivore Code
  • Thomas Seyfried - Cancer as a metabolic disease - on the origins of Cancer
  • Cate Shanahan - Deep Nutrition
  • Mike Sisson - The Primal Blueprint
  • Louise Stephen - Eating Ourselves Sick
  • Nina Teicholz - Big Fat Surprise
  • Gary Taubes - The Case For Keto; Why We Get Fat
  • Dr Jen Unwin - The Fork in the Road
  • Estrelita Van Rensburg & Issy Warrack - Eat Well or Die Slowly
  • Jeff Volek & Stephen Phinney - The Art & Science of Low Carb Living
  • Eric Westman MD & Jimmy Moore - Keto Clarity
  • Robb Wolf - Wired to Eat
  • Caryn Zinn - What the Fat; What The Fast

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The Australian Guide For Healthy Eating is making us fat and unhealthy

It was reassuring to read in The Age over the weekend, about the push to downgrade unhealthy foods that receive a high rating on our flawed voluntary Health Star Rating System, including orange juice, some cereals, muesli bars and a range of organic snacks. It’s not just our food labelling system that’s flawed. Australia’s dietary guidelines are packed with unhealthy food and drinks. I checked out the Australian Guide For Healthy Eating poster recently and was disturbed to find that many of the foods they are promoting are not healthy at all, in fact are likely to be driving the current epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes in Australia. Where do I start? In the Cereal and Grain section of the Guide, white rice is one of the recommended products, and yet white rice is a highly processed grain, which has had its husk, bran and germ removed, in short all the good stuff. White rice is virtually pure starch, and starch is simply a long chain of glucose which is broken down into glucose when it reaches our gut. White rice is a nutrient-poor sugar hit that has driven an epidemic of beri beri throughout Asia, a neurological disease due to vitamin B1 deficiency, that causes numbness of the extremities, confusion, and other unpleasant symptoms. Why is it being promoted as “healthy eating” by our government? Products made from white wheat flour also feature heavily in the Cereal and Grain section, including a variety of pastas and breads, and processed refined carbohydrate products such as polenta and couscous. And once again, white flour is starch, in other words sugar in disguise. Whilst we’re on starch, let’s move to the Vegetables and Legumes/beans section. Should white potatoes really be there? Yet another form of starch? And don’t forget all the products made from white potatoes such as potato crisps and chips, French fries, tater tots, and gnocchi. And can tinned beetroot and sweet corn really be considered healthy? It’s a relief to at least see a few nutrient-rich carbs in this section, such as broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. The Fruits section is jam-packed with high sugar tropical delights such as watermelon, mangoes and bananas. And canned fruit is more often than not a seriously sugary dessert. Moving to the Dairy section, low-fat milks, yoghurts and cheeses get a plug, and yet these “healthy” alternatives are often higher in sugar than their full-fat relatives. Studies have shown that you’re more likely to gain weight drinking skim milk than full-fat milk. And do I really spy baked beans in the Lean meats and Legumes/beans section? One half a cup of these sugary treats contains an average of three teaspoons (12 grams) of added sugars, which is 20% of the daily limit of a 2,000-calorie diet. And why is there a Lean meats section at all? Red meat is barely visible when compared to the massive Cereal and Grain section. Red meat has been demonised for a century or more and yet it’s the refined carbohydrates of cereals and grains that are killing us. Australians need to be made aware that natural fats (saturated or other) in our diet have never been shown to cause cardiovascular disease, and that includes the fats in red meat and full fat dairy. Saturated fats in meat and dairy were dealt a critical blow in the 1980’s when fatty blockage of our blood vessels causing heart attacks was felt to be due to a fatty diet, on no scientific evidence mind you. And they have been unable to shake their unhealthy label ever since. The fact is, dietary saturated fats are critical to our health – there are a number of saturated fats that we can’t go without, fats are needed to allow absorption of many essential vitamins, and fats impart flavour to food and make us feel full after a meal. In fact, when fats are removed from products such as milk and cheese, sugars are needed to enhance the flavour and to give us that same sense of satiety or feeling of satisfaction after eating. The Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Guide For Healthy Eating is no better. In fact, it’s worse, particularly when you realise that one of the promoted items is a highly popular Australian breakfast cereal thinly disguised as “Wheatblocks”, yet in virtually identical packaging. And should graphic depictions of energy and soft drinks (that look similar to popular brand drinks), cordials, and junk food be included on any guide to healthy eating? One has to ask the question, is there a conflict of interest here? With half of Aussie adults and one third of Aussie kids now overweight or obese, and with type 2 diabetes and its life-changing and life-threatening complications on the rise, it’s time for us to admit that our experiment with a low fat-high carb diet has been a failure. There’s never been a more important time in our history to examine our diet, a diet that is killing us by the tens of thousands every year. While we eagerly await the review of our Health Star Rating System in July this year, the Australian Guide For Healthy Eating most certainly needs an overhaul when it comes up for review in 2023. In the meantime, I wouldn’t recommend it as ‘your’ healthy guide to eating.

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Dealing with sugar toxicity – accountability, addition and awareness

Making sweet products less obvious and accessible in supermarkets, delicatessens, post offices and service stations is a good idea – moving them away from check-out counters means that those reflex purchases are less likely to happen. Vending machines dispensing sugary food and drinks should be removed from government buildings, schools and universities. A system for clear labelling of the added sugar content of products should be implemented – the current nutritional guidelines on packaging offer no insight into the amount of added sugar contained within. In Australia, we have a five-star health rating system, which is voluntary, and as such is flawed. What manufacturer would voluntarily put a low rating on a food that it’s trying to sell? And there are a number of unhealthy products which are incorrectly rated as healthy – for example, orange juice receives five stars, and yet a glass of orange juice has nearly as much sugar as a glass of cola. I like the idea of a ‘traffic light’ rating for the level of added sugar, where red = harmful, orange = think twice, green = safe. Applying a levy to products containing high levels of added sugar should also be considered. There’s good evidence and sound reasoning behind this. Sugar sweetened beverages have been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, and there’s now strong, increasing and consistent evidence that a levy on sweet drinks will effectively reduce consumption. Such a levy would also help to offset the massive cost to our health system and raise much-needed revenue for awareness initiatives. Advertising time and space for sugary products should be minimised, starting with the cessation of such adds targeting children on the internet and free-to-air TV and all the places our kids see the pernicious promotion of sugary products as “normal”. Adds promoting such products should also be removed from government facilities and services such as trams and buses. Hard-hitting multi-media awareness strategies should be introduced, as we have done for cigarettes, to inform the public of the far-reaching health dangers of sugar and the very serious complications of type 2 diabetes – check out Sight For All’s TV commercial at https://sightforall.org/news/diabetic-retinopathy-initiative.  

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Dealing with sugar toxicity – the broader picture

From a public health perspective, there are strategies that must be taken on by business, industry and government in order to reduce the toxic impact of sugar. Ultimately, the government must play a pivotal role. A multi-disciplinary team approach is needed, and one that engages medical doctors such as endocrinologists and public health physicians, neuroscientists, nutritionists, marketers, PR experts, and government representatives. Strategies at this level should be aimed at the ‘accessibility’, ‘addition’ and ‘advertisement’ “A’s” of sugar toxicity. Ultimately, it’s about accountability. The sugar industry and the food and beverage industries will need to be included in the discussions, however commercial interests must not stop our government from introducing actions to prevent type 2 diabetes in children, young people and the community in general. Resilience and innovation will be necessary, as we have seen in other disrupted industries (for example, sugar cane could be used to produce ethanol as a clean energy source). The type 2 diabetes epidemic is the biggest health challenge facing our country, indeed the world. And it’s time for Australia to declare war on type 2 diabetes.

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Diabetes is a blinding disease

In 2018 I met an everyday Aussie bloke whose story had a powerful impact on me. Neil Hansell constructs light machinery for a living. He has a wife and four kids. He also has diabetes. A few years ago, diabetes changed Neil’s world overnight. Unfortunately, Neil had neglected his diabetes, and he paid the price. He went to sleep one evening with normal eyesight and woke up the next morning blind in both eyes. One of my surgical colleagues worked hard to retrieve his sight, however sadly, it was too late. At the age of 50, Neil was faced with the rest of his life in darkness, and all that he can see now are black objects on a grey background. Neil had to give up coaching the javelin, a hobby and a passion that gave him so much pleasure. He lost his driving licence, his independence, and his ability to see the beautiful smiles on the faces of his grandkids. Neil is not alone. Over half of all Aussies with diabetes are not having their regular all-important sight-saving eye checks. As a result, diabetes is now the leading cause of blindness amongst working age adults in this country. It’s also the fastest growing cause of blindness in Aboriginal people. If you have diabetes, make sure you have your eyes checked regularly by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

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Diabetes is a killer

There is an estimated 1.7 million Aussies living with diabetes, the sixth biggest killer in our country, a growing epidemic, and the greatest threat to our health system. Impotence, numbness and disabling pain of the hands and feet, gangrene of the feet and legs requiring amputation of the lower limbs, kidney failure requiring daily filtering of the blood by dialysis, and stroke, are just some of the life-changing or life-threatening complications that menacingly await people with this insidious disease. Heart attack is the commonest cause of death, indeed 68% of patients with diabetes will die of heart attack. Dealing with the complications of diabetes is expensive (the total annual cost impact in Australia is estimated to be close to $20 billion) and is counter intuitive – we should all be aware of the risk factors that underly most cases of diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and how we can prevent the disease in the first place, not waiting for the complications to arise before we act.

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What is diabetes?

The word diabetes comes from the ancient Greek “to pass through” and suggests excessive urination, one of the earliest symptoms of the disease. There are two main categories of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, which makes up 10% of all diabetes, is due to auto-immune damage to the pancreas, the organ that secretes insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone that’s responsible for moving dietary glucose from the blood into every cell of our bodies, where it’s stored and utilised as an energy source. Without insulin, blood glucose levels rise dangerously, and this can be life-threatening. The onset is usually rapid and can happen at any age. Type 2 diabetes, which makes up over 90% of all diabetes, is a progressive metabolic disorder where the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. Modifiable risk factors include an unhealthy diet (too much added sugar and refined carbohydrate), physical inactivity and weight gain. Importantly, there is very strong evidence that type 2 diabetes can be prevented and even reversed with lifestyle behavioural changes.

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Type 2 diabetes is on the rise

Humans are physiologically hardwired to love and seek out sweet things. It’s an ancient survival mechanism that evolved to prepare our bodies for expected periods of fasting when food supplies were scarce and to warn us off bitter and potentially poisonous foods. Prior to the 1600s, sugar was an expensive commodity, the domain of healers and holy men or an indulgence that could only be afforded by the wealthy and powerful. Its rising availability and popularity over the next three centuries, as a result of the booming sugar trade, led to diminishing costs, turning sugar from a luxury item into an everyday necessity. These days sugar is cheap and sweet products are everywhere, however things took a turn for the worse in 1980. This was in large part due to the American Dietary Guidelines which were released that year in response to the growing numbers of heart disease that had been noted in the decades following World War 2. Based on little scientific evidence, the recommendation was to reduce dietary fat and increase consumption of carbohydrates. The result had the opposite effect – heart disease and type 2 diabetes soared.

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