Sugar targets ‘counter productive’ in obesity battle

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mandatory sugar targets would hinder not help progress towards sugar reduction, said Jebb
Mandatory sugar targets would hinder not help progress towards sugar reduction, said Jebb
Introducing sugar targets, in a bid to battle Britain’s obesity crisis, would be counter-productive, said Susan Jebb, ahead of a key report from Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).

Jebb – who is chair of the Public Health Responsibility Deal Food Network – said it would delay progress in implementing further cuts in the sugar contents of food and drink.

“The reason I worry about setting mandatory targets is that there is a real danger it will slow down the real progress we are already making,”​ Jebb told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “The big companies have already committed to at least 5% reductions.

‘Big companies may stop further work’

“If we bring in a target of 5%, the pressure will fall on the small family businesses to fall into line. In  giving them the time to do that to meet the regulations, the big companies may well stop the further work they are doing,” ​said Jebb, who is professor of diet and population health at Oxford University.

“So, while we are making good progress, for heaven’s sake, let’s keep going with it.”

But reformulation was not the whole answer to challenge of cutting obesity, she continued. “There are other areas – particularly around promotion and marketing – where I don’t think you can do this with a voluntary approach. We will need some harder policies.”

But Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar (AoS) and Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), insisted mandatory targets were the only way to cut obesity levels which now affected one third of UK adults and a fifth of children. “No, we have tried that ​[voluntary action] for the past 20 years,”​ he told the programme. MacGregor is taking part in a free one-hour obesity webinar​ next Thursday. See details below.

‘Ultra processed fast food’

“We are faced by a crisis. The crisis is due to the ​[fact] ultra processed fast food contains huge amounts of sugar, fat and salt and we’ve got to get them ​[food manufacturers and the soft drinks industry] to reform to get these things down. We have successfully reformed salt in the UK by getting the industry to get it down in all the products you buy and all the meals you buy. We need to do the same for sugar and fat.”

Jebb said the big drinks companies had committed to at least 5% reductions and some were making reductions of 20% or 30%. “Coca-Cola has introduced smaller can sizes from 330 to 250ml. That will cut calories,” ​she added.

Read the three key recommendations of the SACN report here​.

Meanwhile, MacGregor will be taking part in an free, independent one-hour webinar on the roots and remedies of the obesity crisis on Thursday, July 3 at 1100 GMT. The Food Manufacture Group online seminar – Obesity and health: the big fat, sugar and salt debate – will be staged in association with the Institute of Food Science & Technology and backed by the British Dietetic Association and Nutrition Society.

Taking part will be speakers from the National Institute for Health Research, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), CASH and AoS and Leeds University.

Book your free place here​. 

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