Becoming Australian of the Year would be a sweet victory for a blindness prevention pioneer aiming to clamp down on the nation’s sugar addiction.
South Australian eye surgeon James Muecke is the favourite to snare the coveted award when the winners are announced in Canberra on Saturday night.
He founded Sight For All, an organisation dedicated to fighting all causes of blindness with projects in Aboriginal and mainstream Australian communities, Asia and Africa.
Dr Muecke warns Australia is facing a “looming catastrophe” as the number of people with diabetes – the vast majority of whom have preventable type two – is set to double from 1.7 million.
“It is now the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in this country,” he told AAP.
“It’s a growing epidemic and it’s the biggest threat to our health system.”
The eye surgeon has a multi-pronged approach to tackling the troubling problem.
Dr Muecke backs a sugar tax as part of a suite of measures to get Australians to cut their intake of the sweet stuff.
“Taxing would hopefully encourage people to seek lower-sugar alternatives, particularly taxing sugar-sweetened beverages which are a huge culprit in type two diabetes,” he said.
He also wants government to step in to regulate food labelling and advertising.
“Advertising space and time for sugar needs to be reduced, particularly in kids’ TV. I think advertising sugar in kids’ TV is terrible.”
Advertising campaigns to make people aware of the consequences of over consumption of sugar and the effects of diabetes on sight, are also crucial, he said.
“Most of us are addicted to sugar – probably unwittingly. Sugar is as addictive as nicotine. It’s a highly addictive substance” Dr Muecke said.
“People are going blind and losing vision, what we need to do is go right back to beginning and say what is causing this?”
Also in the running for the top gong is former refugee, human rights advocate and orthopaedic surgeon Munjed Al Muderis from NSW.
Professor Al Muderis fled Saddam Hussein’s regime in a boat before being detained on Christmas Island and Curtin Detention Centre in WA, and later forging a career as a leading knee and hip specialist.
Indigenous singer-songwriter Archie Roach is Victoria’s nominee, while education advocate Annie Fogarty won the WA award.
Marine, Antarctic and climate scientist Jess Melbourne-Thomas is representing Tasmania.
An anti-bullying, suicide prevention educator and social entrepreneur Rachel Downie, from Buderim in Queensland.
Darwin-based sports medicine specialist and ex-flying doctor Geoffrey Thompson won the NT award, while Katrina Fanning, a women’s rugby league pioneer, is representing the ACT.
Awards will also be presented in the categories of young, senior and local hero of the year in this 60th anniversary of the gongs.
Australian Associated Press
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