Food & drink firms should be forced to promote healthy diets, says economist

By Kizzi Nkwocha

- Last updated on GMT

'A reduction in sugar consumption will help lower certain health risks, but food policy must be about more than just restricting what people eat...We need a holistic approach to food policy, said Richardson. © iStock
'A reduction in sugar consumption will help lower certain health risks, but food policy must be about more than just restricting what people eat...We need a holistic approach to food policy, said Richardson. © iStock

Related tags Health Sugar

UK food and drink companies should be made to promote healthy and sustainable diets in order to help tackle the global sugar problem, a new paper says.

The paper, Sugar Shift: Six Ideas for a Healthier and Fairer Food System,​ argues that tough measures including government sanctions must be considered in order to encourage food and drinks companies to promote healthier diets and lifestyles.

The paper written by associate professor in international political economy at the University of Warwick, Dr Ben Richardson, argues that a reduction in sugar consumption will be achieved by meeting both public health and social justice concerns.

In order to reach this goal the paper says the promotion of healthy and sustainable diets should be mandatory for food and drink corporations.

“The Responsibility Deal should be revived by using peer-review, multi-stakeholder monitoring and government sanctions to encourage major manufacturers and retailers to adopt and implement meaningful strategies for change – including, but not restricted to, sugar reduction.”

It added: “Separately, and to avoid reifying a corporate food economy, small businesses should be supported through local cooperatives and more water supplied through public drinking fountains.”

The paper, published by the Food Research Collaboration (FRC), outlines six major proposals that could help the country tackle sugar-related problems both in the UK and abroad.

Un-branding corporate social responsibility

Included in its recommendations is a call for corporate social responsibility to be un-branded and feature different body sizes in food and drink advertising.

It said: “Alongside restrictions on advertising products high in sugar and fat to children, companies that choose to support sports activities and eating programmes as part of their corporate social responsibility agendas should do so without branding their initiatives.

“Advertisers should also be more representative in who they include in their adverts. Excluding those considered obese reinforces the message that being this size is something shameful.”  

Another wide-sweeping recommendation made by the briefing paper is for the reform of subsidies to sugar beet producers in the EU and increased support for small-scale, mixed farming in the UK.

The paper argues that agricultural policy is connected to both unbalanced diets and unfair trade.

“Redirecting the millions of euros spent through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to directly subsidise sugar in the EU would raise prices and allow sugarcane exporters in poor countries to compete on a more equal basis,”​ it said.

“Giving less CAP money to large landowners and more to family farmers through rural development funds in the UK would also support the provision of direct, fresh, sustainable food.”    

The paper was produced after an FRC hosted meeting of civil society groups and academics on sugar policy. Dr Richardson then conducted a series of interviews with people working in the sugar industry and in local government.

More than just restricting what people eat

Other key proposals include:

  • The introduction of a 20 per centc duty
  • A call for UK-owned sugar companies and UK-based food companies to pay their workers a real living wage
  • The need for a global convention to protect and promote healthy diets in the World Health Organization.

Dr Richardson said: “A reduction in sugar consumption will help lower certain health risks, but food policy must be about more than just restricting what people eat.

“To create a fairer food system in the UK and internationally we need a holistic approach to food policy. This approach links what we eat to what we grow and also links health concerns to social justice concerns.

“This paper shows how a focus on sugar can be used to address these wider issues. Using a sugary drinks duty to fund the public health interventions that support active lifestyles for all is one example. Other proposals address economic issues like a lack of diversity in the food and farming economy, as well as social issues like fat shaming.

“While sugar is in the crosshairs of debate, we should think about addressing the other ills in the food system with which it is associated.”

Professor Tim Ling,  Chair of the FRC, said:  “Government needs longer-term strategy to relink production and consumption for human and environmental health and to create decent jobs producing good quality foods that don’t add burdens to the NHS like sugar. We must look at the evidence from around the world on ways to reduce sugar consumption, such as in food taxes, but also ensure that social justice and fairness are part of a new food policy fit for all people, not a small but powerful vested interest.”









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1 comment

there is no unhealthy food!

Posted by Dieter EHLERMANN,

Paracelsus: "dosis sola facit venenum"
Salt is healthy, fat is healthy, sugar is healty. No life without salt.

The responsibility is never with the food industry; what is missing is responsible education of our children and a wide understandig of nutrition by all consumers. A 'healthy diet' must be chosen by the conscious consumer, not be omposed by regulators.

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