Principal dentist for the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, Rob Beaglehole, has stepped out of his clinic to ask the region’s council to be the first in the country to ban the sale of sugary drinks at council venues and events.
He extracts some 40 rotting teeth a week from the mouths of young and old because of the community’s love affair with sugar.
The Nelson Leader took two minutes to catch up with Rob and ask him about his campaign, among other things . . .
Where did you grow up?
All over the world. My parents were academics. I was born in England but left there when I was two months old. I spent five years in the US and time living Europe. But I consider myself a Kiwi. My parents are Kiwis and I have spent the majority of my life living in New Zealand.
So why a dentist?
I wanted to do something health related. I graduated in 1997 and got a masters in health dentistry in London then went on to work for the World Dentistry Federation in Geneva. I’ve also worked in Wellington as a public health policy analyst and spent two years as a policy advisor for Damien O’Connor – that gave me a view on politics and the practice of lobbying and advocacy.
You care so much about the health of children – you must be a Dad.
I am an active Dad of two boys and one reason I only work four days a week – so I can spend time with them. They are 4 and 7 years. I see the impact of sugar not only from the work I do in clinical dentistry but also at the school, when I pick the kids up, in my community and in our shops.
You call sugar the new tobacco – why?
Sugary drinks are the leading cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. They cause the same level of harm as tobacco and the tobacco industry and the junk food industry work along the same lines to market their products – through sponsorship and advertising – like the All Blacks’ Powerade advert.
You have asked both Nelson City and Tasman District councils to ban the sale of sugary drinks at their venues and events. Nelson has turned down the offer, Tasman has not responded. What now?
I’ve also made contact with Marlborough District Council, but they advised me to wait until after the October elections.
I’m now advocating that other public dental officers around the country lobby their councils to have New Zealand free of sugary drinks by 2025 – the same as tobacco.
It may seem radical now but it makes sense.
I spoke to the New Zealand Society of Hospital and Community Dentistry this week on the topic of sugary drinks being the new tobacco and it has agreed to put out a press release.
Why are you putting yourself on the line for this?
I see the clinical side of this and I can see the link with the tobacco industry.
At the end of the day someone has to do it. I’m not saying anything outrageous – we just have to focus on the evidence.
What’s your favourite meal?
Indian. I love India – I have been there six times because of the happiness you see people display in their eyes and smiles, the sights, the variation between cultures and the yoga. I do a lot of yoga.