Following the appearance of Action on Sugar (AOS) chair Graham MacGregor at last month’s BSB Spring Conference, AOS campaign director Katharine Jenner looks at reformulation.
Consuming an unhealthy diet is a major cause of death in the UK. But why is the food that we eat contributing to so many deaths?
It’s quite simple, really. Many processed foods are full of salt, which raises our blood pressure and this, in turn, is one of the major causes of death from strokes and heart attacks or heart failure.
Then, there is saturated fat, which puts up our cholesterol, a major factor in heart disease and strokes. Next there’s fat with sugar – particularly in products that only have transient fullness or satiation, which many ultra-processed foods do. Unsurprisingly these elevate our calorie intake, leading to obesity and the potential to develop type 2 diabetes.
While the food industry says you can choose foods that are healthy – but spends billions of pounds convincing people to eat unhealthily – the government has a key role to play in policing the industry.
We need to change the food environment and reformulate products, just like we did with salt, and get the fat and sugar levels down.
We also need to restrict the marketing of these products, especially to vulnerable children. Let’s face it, the government banned tobacco advertising because it was so harmful, yet diet is also a major cause of death.
Admittedly, it took a long time to ban cigarette adverts and there will be a gradual step-wise progression where, in the end, unhealthy food will not be permitted to be marketed or promoted – only healthy food.
Interestingly, the sugar tax on soft drinks had an amazing effect on sugar intake in the UK. The amount of sugar in soft drinks was reduced by about 20% in just a few months, with a consequent impact on sugar consumption.
And it’s likely there are going to be many more taxes introduced, particularly as we need more money to finance the cash-strapped National Health Service, for example.
While the industry has a limited time to reformulate its products, it’s amazing how reformulation can have a huge effect, as it did on blood pressure, on obesity and cholesterol if you get it right. It will affect the most deprived people in our community, many of whom could die 10-15 years prematurely if we don’t take immediate action.
This is not fair and we have a moral duty to do something about it – or face the many consequences.