Government backing of Asda sugar target 'sad day for public health'

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

UK government taking 'completely irresponsible' approach to sugar reduction, says Action on Sugar
UK government taking 'completely irresponsible' approach to sugar reduction, says Action on Sugar

Related tags Medicine

Asda’s promise to reduce added sugar in some of its own brand drinks this year is a positive step forward – but it also reveals the chaotic approach to sugar reduction in the UK, according to Action on Sugar.

Asda said the changes – which will amount to 3.25 billion calories and affect drinks including its cola and Smart Price apple and orange juice – will remove 22% of sugar from its own label drinks and come into play in May this year

The supermarket’s announcement came with an endorsement from UK public health minister Jane Ellison, who said: “This is an excellent step forward to encourage people to choose healthier drinks. I welcome this move and encourage other businesses to follow suit.”

Chosen by you range

Blue Charge Original
Tonic water
Tonic with a twist of lemon
Bitter lemon
Ginger ale
Moscow mixer
Iron brew
Dandelion and Burdock
Cloudy lemonade
Blackcurrant high juice
Summer fruits high juice
White grape and peach high juice
Orange and mango high juice
Orange high juice
Apple high juice
Apple and mango juice drink
Cranberry juice drink
Exotic juice drink
Mango juice drink
Orange, peach and passion fruit juice drink
Pineapple and coconut juice drink
Pomegranate juice drink

Smart Price range

Apple juice drink
Orange juice drink

Yet public health campaign group Action on Sugar said this government backing of a relatively small commitment marked a “sad day for public health”.

Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, told us this was all part of the “chaotic”​ dribs and drabs result of the voluntary Responsibility Deal.

“The government needs to either take real responsibility for sugar reduction itself, or hand it over to an independent agency.”  

He said current UK secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt and his predecessor Andrew Lansley had created a legacy of disarray and had failed to “seize the deal”​ and secure real stratified progress.

He said pledges made through and outside of the Responsibility Deal, a voluntary programme, were not policed or checked which had resulted in “little bits of action​” and an atmosphere whereby nobody had a good gauge of how much reduction was actually happening.

He criticised Andrew Lansley’s decision during his time as secretary of state between 2010 and 2012 to move public health policy into the jurisdiction of the Department of Health (DoH). He said this had been partly responsible for inaction in terms of mandatory reduction policy and pledge follow-up. In the case of salt, which he marked as a comparative success, this task had been performed by independent body Food Standards Agency (FSA).


The current situation meant everybody was reducing due to public pressure, but not enough. Since there was nobody there to ‘name and shame’ those who had not fulfilled their promise, the government was able to pat itself on the back for changes he said were below that achievable if sugar reduction was written into policy.

“This is completely irresponsible of Jeremy Hunt.”

Talks were now looking into this mantle being taken up by Public Health England, an executive agency sponsored by the DoH, but he said: “The talks are going nowhere – Public Health England can’t take over because the Department of Health retains responsibility for policy.”




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