A new plan to tackle childhood obesity by curbing sugar consumption from Action on Sugar (AoS) has been slated by food manufacturers.
The seven-point plan calls for government action on sugar to stop what it terms junk food marketing, sports sponsorships, junk foods at checkouts and taxation.
Measures include cutting added sugars by 40% by 2020 by reformulation, stopping all forms of targeted marketing and limiting the availability of “ultra-processed foods” and sweetened soft drinks and cutting portion sizes. See full list below.
AoS said it had been requested to submit the recommendations after a meeting with health secretary Jeremy Hunt in April.
If adopted, the UK government would be the first country in the world to halt the obesity epidemic by reducing calories by 100kcal a day, it said. The costs of obesity and type II diabetes were estimated at about £29bn a year, and expected to rise significantly.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of AoS, 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.”
‘Commonest cause of death and disability’
Obesity predisposes people to type II diabetes, which further increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and can lead to severe complications, such as blindness, renal dialysis and amputation of the lower limbs.
MacGregor is one of four speakers taking part in the Food Manufacture Group’s independent free, one-hour obesity webinar on Thursday July 3 at 1100 GMT. See details below.
But food and drink manufacturers have insisted they are responding to Britain’s obesity crisis responsibly and have slammed the AoS plan.
The Food and Drink Federation’s director of communications Terry Jones described the plan as the “the usual catalogue of industry bashing” by AoS. “There was little evidence to support the measures called for and falls well short of being a rounded strategy with nothing on food education, the promotion of physical activity or tackling health inequalities in underprivileged communities,” he said.
Supporting improvements in public health
The food and drink manufacturing sector had a 10-year plus commitment to supporting improvements in public health and was already playing its part – “most recently through a series of calorie reduction pledges as part of the Department of Health Responsibility Deal which empower and enable consumers to reduce their calorie intake”.
British Sugar’s md Richard Pike recognised obesity was “an urgent and complex issue” facing the nation.
“As a responsible business we strongly believe that we all have a role to play in tackling this,” said Pike. “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 and 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.”
While obesity rates have increased in the UK, government figures show that total sugars consumption has reduced by almost 12% per capita in the past decade, he added.
Mass reformulation was not always practical and a sugar tax was not the answer, said Pike.
Meanwhile, the Food Manufacture Group is staging a free, independent, one-hour webinar on obesity at 11am on Thursday July 3. Book your place at the event at the online seminar – supported by the Institute of Food Science & Technology, the British Dietetic Association and the Nutrition Society – here.
Childhood obesity prevention plan
1 Reduce added sugars by 40% by 2020 by reformulating (similar programme to salt)
2 Cease all forms of marketing of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods and drinks to children
3 Disassociate physical activity with obesity via banning junk food sports sponsorships
4 Reduce fat in ultra-processed foods, particularly saturated fat – 15% reduction by 2020
5 Limit the availability of ultra-processed foods and sweetened soft drinks as well as reducing portion size
6 Incentivise healthier food and discourage drinking of soft drinks by planning to introduce a sugar tax
7 Remove responsibility for nutrition from the Department of Health and return it back to an independent agency