Campaigners call for sugar tax

Campaign group, Action on Sugar has called on the government to introduce a sugar tax and to reduce added sugars by 40% by 2020.

The group held a meeting with Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, last week where it outlined a seven-step plan that it claimed would combat the growing obesity crisis. Currently one in five 10- to 11-year-olds are obese and one in three are overweight.

The call has been labelled as ‘misleading’ by British Sugar, the leading supplier of sugar to the UK market, which said it was wrong to target just one thing and that calls for reformulation of products were not always practical.

Action on Sugar’s seven steps are:

• Reduce added sugars by 40% by 2020 by reformulating (similar to the CASH salt reduction programme [Ref 3])
• Cease all forms of targeted marketing of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods and drinks to children
• Disassociate physical activity with obesity via banning junk food sports sponsorships
• Reduce fat in ultra-processed foods, particularly saturated fat – 15% reduction by 2020
• Limit the availability of ultra-processed foods and sweetened soft drinks as well as reducing portion size
• Incentivise healthier food and discourage drinking of soft drinks by introducing a sugar tax
• Remove responsibility for nutrition from the Department of Health and return it back to an independent agency.

Obesity

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “Obesity in children leads to the premature development of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure, which are the commonest cause of death and disability in the UK. Obesity predisposes to Type II Diabetes, which further increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and, importantly, it can lead to severe complications – ie, the commonest cause of blindness, renal dialysis and amputation of the lower limbs. These complications are extremely expensive to manage, and will cripple the NHS if the increase in obesity and Type II Diabetes is not stopped immediately.

“Obesity is preventable if the food environment is changed, yet the current policies are not working. The UK requires the implementation of this coherent strategy, starting by setting incremental sugar reduction targets for soft drinks this summer. No delays, no excuses.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, who spoke recently to British Baker on the topic of sugar, added: “It is really quite shameful that the food industry continues to spend billions in junk food advertising, targeting children, the most vulnerable members of society. They even manage to associate sugary products with sport.”

Richard Pike, managing director of British Sugar, said: “We recognise that obesity is an urgent and complex issue facing our nation and, as a responsible business, we strongly believe that we all have a role to play in tackling this. We fully support measures that help people better manage their diet and address some of the key health concerns in the UK. Obesity, however, is a result of multiple lifestyle factors, so sadly there is no silver bullet to solving this problem.

“Singling out an individual ingredient like sugar is misleading as current scientific evidence points to an over-consumption of total calories and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles as causing an imbalance between energy (calories) in and energy (calories) out.”

He added: “Calls for the mass reformulation of products to reduce sugar content are not always practical, as there is no one ingredient that can replicate all of its functions in each and every product. We fully support, however, reformulation of food and drink products (including the removal of sugars), where it results in a reduction in total calories and where it is palatable to consumers.

“Furthermore, we do not believe that a tax on sugar is the right answer to obesity. There is no conclusive evidence that a sugar tax will have the desired effect or prompt a change in consumer behaviour. For example, in Denmark a tax introduced in 2011 on food containing more than 2.3g of saturated fat was repealed after just 15 months with no measurable impact on dietary habits.”

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