Time for action? UK campaign group calls for 'sugar tax' to slash child obesity

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Time for action? UK campaign group calls for 'sugar tax' to slash child obesity

Related tags Sugar Nutrition

Action on Sugar has produced a seven-point plan to discourage children from consuming foods and soft drinks with high levels of added sugar.

Campaign group Action on Sugar has responded to a request from UK health minister Jeremy Hunt, MP, to help address the crisis in childhood obesity by producing a seven point recommendation.

The group wants measures brought in to cut added sugar in food by 40% by 2020, to cut fat in foods and to ban sports sponsorship by ‘junk food’ companies. The Department of Health has said it will consider the recommendations.

"Obesity is preventable if the food environment is changed, yet the current policies are not working,”​ said Action on Sugar chairman Professor Graham MacGregor. “The UK requires the implementation of this coherent strategy, starting by setting incremental sugar reduction targets for soft drinks this Summer.  No delays, no excuses.”

Shameful sports links

Dr Dr Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar added that is ‘shameful’ that the food industry spends billions in advertising junk food to target children: “They even manage to associate sugary products with sport.”

“Physical activity has a multitude of benefits but a child doing an hour of PE every day would be putting all to waste if they ended up gorging on a burger and chips and a packet of crisps washed down with a sugary drink,”​ he said.

“One has to run half a marathon to burn off those calories. It's time to bust the myth of physical activity and obesity and dissociate junk food and sport."

However, Richard Pike, managing director of British Sugar contended that singling out an individual ingredient - like sugar - is misleading because current evidence points to an over-consumption of total calories and increasingly sedentary lifestyles to be the cause of obesity.

"We recognise that obesity is an urgent and complex issue facing our nation and 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.”

Cutting calories

The British Sugar chief added that it is also important to remember that while obesity rates have increased in the UK, figures also show that total sugars consumption has reduced by almost 12% per capita in the last decade.

"Calls for the mass reformulation of products to reduce sugar content are not always practical, as there is no one ingredient that can replicate all of its functions in each and every product. We fully support, however, reformulation of food and drink products (including the removal of sugars), where it results in a reduction in total calories and where it is palatable to consumers,”​ he said.

New recommendations

The seven measures proposed by Action on Sugar are:

  • Reduce added sugars in food by 40% by 2020
  • Ban all forms of targeted marketing of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods and drinks to children
  • Disassociate physical activity with obesity by banning junk food sports sponsorships
  • Reduce fat by 15% in ultra-processed foods by 2020
  • Limit the availability of ultra-processed foods and sweetened soft drinks as well as reducing portion sizes
  • Introduce a sugar tax to incentivise healthier food

Earlier this year Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said a sugar tax may have to be introduced to curb obesity rates. She told a committee of MPs that she believed "research will find sugar is addictive",​ and that "we may need to introduce a sugar tax".

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