Action on Sugar

Next Wednesday will see the launch of the Hudson Summit, a meeting of soft drinks manufacturers, retailers, health campaigners and politicians to discuss how we can encourage healthier choices. Ahead of the event,  JENNY ROSBOROUGH, registered nutritionist and campaign manager for Action on Sugar, gives her view on government plans for a sugar tax – and what more can be done.

Action on Sugar logo

It’s no secret that obesity, type 2 diabetes and hospital admissions due to tooth decay are crippling the NHS, but what is being done? 31% of children aged 2 to 15, 58% of women and 65% of men are classed as either overweight or obese[1]. Obesity is extremely complex and there are many contributing factors.

Last year, the recommendation for free sugars* consumption halved to no more than 5% of our daily energy intake. We are currently consuming 2- 3 times more free sugars than recommended and a comprehensive review of the evidence shows that excess sugar consumption is associated with a greater risk of tooth decay and in particular, sugars-sweetened beverages (SSB) results in greater weight gain in children and adolescents compared to low calorie drinks and is associated with type 2 diabetes[2].

Action on Sugar’s recent study[3] showed that a 40% reduction in free sugars added to SSBs over five years would result in an average reduction in energy intake of 38 kcal per day by the end of the fifth year. This would lead to a reduction in overweight and obese adults by approximately half a million and 1 million respectively and in turn prevent between 274,000-309,000 obesity-related type 2 diabetes over the next two decades.

Cameron is now deciding what action the government will take to prevent childhood obesity. Action on Sugar, a campaign group which works with the food and drink industry, government and other health organisations, has developed a coherent, evidence-based strategy calling for key actions. In theory, ambitious sugar reduction targets in drinks will continue to be set in response to the recent announcement of the sugary drinks levy; a tax which manufacturers can avoid if their drinks contain less than 5% sugar. But this is just the start. To tackle obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay effectively, we need a whole systems approach that targets both sugar and saturated fat in food and drink and extends beyond the responsibility of the individual, but also to the government and food and drink industry.

The proposed strategy offers a win-win for consumers, policy makers, the health service and also the manufacturers. It is just a matter of whether David Cameron has the guts to implement these policies.

* ‘Free sugars’ includes all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose (milk sugar) when naturally present in milk and milk products and sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods (particularly fruits and vegetables) are excluded.

[1] Health Survey for England 2014: Health, Social Care and lifestyles

[2] Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Carbohydrates and health. 2015

[3] Ma, Yuan et al, 2016. Gradual reduction of sugar in soft drinks without substitution as a strategy to reduce overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes: a modelling study. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology


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