Leading health experts from across the globe have today united to form ‘Action On Sugar’ – an unprecedented call to tackle and reverse the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Obesity is a major crisis facing the UK and practically every country around the world, and yet there is no coherent structured plan to tackle it. The group will initially target the huge and unnecessary amounts of sugar that are currently added to food and soft drinks.
Action On Sugar will carry out a public health campaign, to make the public more sugar aware, and thus able to avoid products that are full of hidden sugars. Children are a particularly vulnerable group targeted by industry marketing calorie-dense snacks and sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
Initially, the group will adopt a similar model to the salt reduction campaign pioneered by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). This has become one of the most successful nutritional policies in the UK since the Second World War; setting targets for the food industry to add less salt to all of their products, over a period of time. As this is done slowly, people do not notice the difference in taste.
Salt intake has fallen in the UK by 15% (between 2001-2011) and most products in the supermarkets have had their salt content reduced by between 20 and 40%, leading to a minimum reduction of 6,000 deaths a year from strokes and heart attacks, and a healthcare saving cost of £1.5bn.
A similar programme can be developed to gradually reduce the amount of added sugar in food and soft drinks. Action On Sugar has calculated that a 20 to 30% reduction in sugar added by the food industry which, given a reasonable timeframe (3-5 years) is easily achievable, would result in a reduction in calorie intake of approximately 100kcal/day, and more in those people who are particularly prone to obesity.
This reduction in calorie intake would have a significant impact in reducing the burden of chronic disease, as well as helping to limit obesity. The campaign will therefore focus on convincing the food industry, the government and the Department of Health (DH) that this is by far the best way to tackle the obesity epidemic: this programme is practical, will work and will cost very little. It also gives an opportunity to the food and soft drinks industry to shift towards healthier options without having a significant effect on their profit margins.
Added sugar in our diet is a very recent phenomenon (around 150 years) and only occurred when sugar, obtained from sugar cane, beet and corn, became very cheap to produce. No other mammal eats added sugar and there is no requirement for it in the human diet. It is a totally unnecessary source of calories, gives no feeling of fullness and is acknowledged to be a major factor in causing obesity and diabetes both in the UK and worldwide.
It’s not just the well-known brands, such as Coca Cola, which has a staggering nine teaspoons of added sugar, but flavoured water, sports drinks, yogurts, ketchup, ready meals and even bread are just a few everyday foods that contain large amounts of hidden sugars. There is no requirement for food labels to differentiate between added sugar and that which occurs naturally in the product, free example, in milk and fruit.
As well as the campaign for reducing added sugar in processed foods and drinks, the new group also aims to:
• educate the public in becoming more sugar aware in terms of understanding the impact of sugar on their health, checking labels when shopping and avoiding products with high levels of sugar.
• ensure that children are highlighted as a particularly vulnerable group whose health is more at risk from high sugar intakes.
• ensure clear and comprehensive nutritional labelling of the sugar content of all processed foods.
• conduct a Parliamentary campaign to ensure the government and DH take action, and that, if the food industry do not comply with the sugar targets, they will enact legislation or impose a sugar tax.