The first soft drinks made with sweeteners to enjoy a promotional “healthy discount” could persuade more manufacturers to wean consumers off sugar, according to a nutrition expert.
Speaking to the All-Parliamentary Group On a Fit and Healthy Childhood, Professor Jack Winkler said planned differential pricing between a leading standard and reformulated product later this year was a “good start” in the fight against overconsumption of sugary foods. But he called on firms making soft drinks, confectionery, baked goods/ cereals, and dairy, to play their part.
Sweeteners were one of the most powerful tools in the fight against obesity, he said, but their demonisation had wrongly robbed them of merit as a “fast route” to cutting calorific content.
“Why are they not used anywhere other than fizzy drinks and chewing gum? On current scientific evidence the proven health risks of sugar greatly exceed any potential health risk of sweeteners,” said Winkler, former professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University and adviser to the pressure group Action On Sugar. “Most people, including children, would be healthier if we substituted sugar with sweeteners.”
‘Nutritionists have remained silent’
However, Winkler noted that the subject of sweeteners was contentious. “As a result, nutritionists have remained silent on it [in relation to obesity]. I do not believe such silence is sustainable. I think we have a moral responsibility to talk about it,” he added.
Winkler, who has previously advocated government take a pragmatic approach to working with industry, said it was clear the “eat carrots, not cola” message had not worked, while recent studies had shown a sugar tax to be “ultimately ineffective” and was in any case politically toxic.
Talk of a tax had overshadowed the most strategically significant message in chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies's recent report on obesity, which he summarised as: “If you cannot change people, you have to change the food instead”.
‘An important change’
Winkler said: “We can see where she is going with this and it's an important change. It makes two things possible: nutritional improvement without dietary change and improvement in diets to people who are appalled by the idea of it.”
The Food Manufacture Group’s free one-hour webinar on obesity to take place at 11am on Thursday July 3.
The online seminar – Obesity and health: the big fat, sugar and salt debate – will offer an independent perspective on how these controversial topics affect the UK food and drink industry and how food and drink manufacturers can help to remedy the crisis.
Reserve your free place at the webinar by emailing Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org .