Published on 27 October 2015

A reduction in the amount of sugar in shop-bought food and a tax on products containing sugar are among the recommendations that aim to help reduce health problems including obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.

The report, Sugar reduction: the evidence for action, recently published by Public Health England provided an evidence-based review of a broad range of measures to reduce the nation’s “excessive” sugar consumption.

The review found that a range of factors, including marketing, promotions, advertising and the amount of sugar in manufactured food, were contributing to an increase in sugar consumption and urgent action should be taken in response.

A tax on foods containing sugar is one suggestion from the Public Health England report aimed at helping reduce the risk of health complications, including type 2 diabetes

Among suggested action to reduce levels of sugar consumption levels could include reducing the volume and number of price promotions in retail and restaurants; the marketing and advertising of high sugar products to children and the sugar content in and portion size of everyday food and drink products.

The review also suggested the consideration of a price increase, through a tax or a levy, as a way of reducing sugar intake, though this was likely to be less effective than the three measures set out above.

Other conclusions from the review include setting a clear definition of high sugar foods; adopting the government buying standards for foods and catering services; delivering accredited training on diet and health to all who work in catering, fitness and leisure sectors; and continuing to raise awareness of practical steps to reduce sugar consumption.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Public Health England’s evidence review shows there is no silver bullet solution to the nation’s bad sugar habit. 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.

“We’ve shared our findings with the Government and are working with them on its childhood obesity strategy.”

Latest figures suggest that on average children and young people consume three times the recommended amount of sugar, with adults consuming more than double. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recently recommended that sugar makes up no more than 5% of daily calorie intake: 30g or seven cubes of sugar per day. The Government adopted the advice as official dietary advice in July this year.

Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and related health and dental problems. In England, almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese; a tenth of children aged four to five and almost a fifth of children aged 10 to 11 are obese. Treating obesity and its consequences alone currently costs the NHS £5.1 billion every year.

The report suggested that if the nation dropped its sugar intake to recommended levels within 10 years, more than 4,000 early deaths and more than 200,000 cases of tooth decay could be avoided. This could help reduce the burden of health complications linked with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, and could save the NHS around £480 million every year.

Public Health England representatives and TV chef Jamie Oliver have both recently held discussions with Government committees to discuss what action should be taken to tackle sugar.

Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Diabetes, said: “It’s because of the work of people like Jamie Oliver that I understand that it’s important that we know about what we eat. I would like to thank Jamie Oliver for the excellent work he has does in this area.”

The Sugar Rush campaign led by Jamie Oliver has called on the introduction of a sugar tax, with a petition suggesting that a tax of “7p per regular-sized can of soft drink with added sugar could generate £1 billion per year. We believe this crucial revenue should be ring-fenced to support much needed preventative strategies in the NHS and schools around childhood obesity and diet-related disease.”

A statement from the Government in response said: “The Government has no plans to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The Government will announce its plans for tackling childhood obesity by the end of the year.”

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