Thu, Mar-30-17, 07:24
UK: The food industry needs to curb the nation’s sweet tooth
From The Times
30 March, 2017
The food industry needs to curb the nation’s sweet tooth
How many times has it been said that sugar is the enemy, the “new fat” and the root cause of the burgeoning obesity epidemic? The answer is: a lot.
But there’s a reason for it, and a good one at that. Added sugar has no nutritional value and constitutes empty calories. Children aged 11 to 18 should have not more than 30g (seven cubes) of sugar a day, and yet a single can of cola contains seven cubes and a 500ml bottle a staggering 13.5 cubes.
The sugar in our food is often invisible to us, and therefore it’s incredibly easy to consume huge amounts every day without really knowing it — and to pile on the pounds as a result. It’s no wonder that we’re seeing one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese.
There’s no doubt education plays an important part, but the success of initiatives such as Change4Life in improving rates of obesity has been limited. And we know from the fight against smoking that education only slightly changes our behaviour.
Others would say the answer is national action through legislation. There’s certainly merit to this argument, not least because the soft drinks industry levy, the “sugar tax”, is due to be introduced in April 2018 but has already forced the industry into making changes.
The government, through Public Health England, has decided to take a “third way” with the sugar reformulation programme, asking industry to meet a voluntary 20 per cent sugar reduction target by 2020. Hitting this target has the potential to radically change the nation’s sugar consumption and stop us careering towards a more obese future.
The government is encouraged by the salt reduction programme in England, which also relied on voluntary action by industry and was highly successful in reducing salt intake across the population.
But the early noises from industry over sugar are mixed: while some producers are actively reformulating, others are not and the Food and Drink Federation is arguing that 20 per cent is an unrealistic target and won’t be met. The government says it is watching closely and is prepared to move towards legislation if the industry fails to act. If the voluntary approach doesn’t work, we should face the fact that there is no other option but to get tough and force these companies into action.
The sooner the food and drink industry realises the responsibility it carries for the health of the nation, the closer we’ll get to making serious inroads into the obesity epidemic.
Professor Russell Viner is officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health