A sugar tax and reductions in the sugar content and portion size of everyday food and drink products are among the recommendations made by Public Health England (PHE) to address concerns about the nation’s sugar consumption.

The government body’s long-awaited review, Sugar Reduction: The Evidence for Action, which was published today, insisted the country’s "sugar habit" was "too serious" to be solved by individuals changing their behaviour alone. The report also linked high sugar consumption with obesity, which costs the NHS £5.1bn every year. Almost 25% of adults, 10% of 4- to 5-year-olds and 19% of 10- to 11-year-olds in England are obese.

"PHE’s evidence review shows there is no silver bullet solution to the nation’s bad sugar habit," said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE. "A broad and balanced approach is our best chance of reducing sugar consumption to healthier levels and to see fewer people suffering the consequences of too much sugar in the diet." 

The report concluded a range of factors including a clampdown on price promotions, such as buy-one-get-one-free deals, were needed to tackle the issue and made eight recommendations. These included:

    • Reducing and rebalancing the number and type of price promotions in all retail outlets including supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, cafes and takeaways
    • Reducing opportunities to market and advertise high sugar food and drink products to children and adults across all media including digital platforms and through sponsorship 
    • Setting a clear definition for high sugar foods
    • Introducing a broad, structured and transparently monitored programme of gradual sugar reduction in everyday food and drink products combined with reductions in portion size
    • Introducing a price increase of a minimum of 10-20% on high sugar products through the use of a tax or levy 
    • Adopting government buying standards for food and catering services across the public sector including national and local government and the NHS to ensure the provision and sale of healthier food and drinks in places including hospitals and leisure centres
    • Ensuring that accredited training in diet and health is routinely delivered to all those who have opportunities to influence food choices in the catering, fitness and leisure sectors
  • Raising awareness of concerns around sugar levels in the diet to the public as well as health professionals, employers and the food industry and providing practical steps to help people lower their own and their families sugar intake.

FDF director general Ian Wright CBE welcomed the report but opposed the suggestion of a sugar tax. “The food and drink industry is determined to play its part in tackling childhood obesity,” he said. “Steps are already in hand to ensure that high fat, salt and sugar foods will not be advertised to children. Likewise, the industry has already removed millions of calories from the food chain and will continue to make progress on this through reformulation and changes to portion/pack sizes.

"It may also be possible, by negotiation, to improve the definition of ‘high sugar foods’ as the report suggests. However, we do not agree that the international evidence supports the introduction of a sugar tax and for this reason would oppose such a move.”

Professor Graham MacGregor,cChair of Action on Sugar, added: "Reformulation, ie, gradual reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink, is by far the most effective policy in reducing calorie intake as shown by the very successful salt reduction programme in the UK as led by Consensus Action on Salt and Health and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). We urgently need an independent nutrition agency to implement this very important policy, eg, the FSA, to be the first country in the world to prevent obesity and Type 2 diabetes."