Ophthalmologist, Australian of the Year and self-professed “social entrepreneur” Dr James Muecke AM delivered the inaugural Barry Jones Vision Oration to a broad, receptive online audience on Wednesday, 28 October.
Dr Muecke spoke of his professional experience, alongside his personal journey, and how it shaped his approach to medicine, life and making a positive impact on the community.
From his formative experiences volunteering in Rwanda and Mozambique, through to his work with not for profit Sight For All, Dr Muecke’s focus on achieving his goal of creating a world where everyone can see is both fascinating and inspirational.
This colourful background also provided an important context for the second half of Dr Muecke’s presentation, entitled Blinded by Sugar, which provided an overview of his high-profile campaign to lessen the often devastating effect excess sugar consumption is having on the health of many Australians.
Combining medical insights and a clear personal passion, Dr Muecke clearly drew the line from consumption of sugar and carbohydrate-laden foods to Type 2 Diabetes, and on to the disease’s effects, highlighting vision loss, but also touching on stroke, amputation and dementia.
Aside from the effects on individual health, the financial burden of treating Type 2 Diabetes is estimated at more than $20 billion annually – providing even more incentive for tackling this too-rapidly growing challenge.
Dr Muecke highlighted a number of key steps which need to be undertaken to begin to curb the negative impacts of sugar, many of which he is already seeing positive responses to.
These changes are headlined by a call for a tax to be levied on sugary products, and also include removal of unhealthy food products from vending machines and supermarket checkouts, restrictions on advertising of sugar-laden products, and investment in a national public education campaign to make people aware of the negative impact sugary foods can have on their health.
Dr Muecke also called for a rethink of the Australian Dietary Guidelines as a “critical step” in addressing the consumption of sugar. He noted the current guidelines place to much emphasis on consumption of carbohydrates, and contain recommendations based on “very weak evidence.”
He said addressing the guidelines would provide a “pathway forward for creating a paradigm shift to reverse this serious epidemic of type 2 diabetes in our society.”
The annual Barry Jones Vision Oration has been inaugurated in 2020 as Vision 2020 Australia celebrates its 20th year, and is named in honour of the Hon Professor Barry Jones AC, who has been a long standing supporter of the eye health and vision care sector, highlighted by 12 years as Chair of the Vision 2020 Australia Board. He continues to support the sector in his role as the organisation’s Patron, and his passion for the work being done by Vision 2020 Australia members is evident.
Speaking at the conclusion of the event, Professor Jones described Dr Muecke’s oration as “compelling and powerful”, expressing admiration for his courage in taking on such an important and uncomfortable challenge, suggesting Type 2 Diabetes should be a “national scandal.”
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