Health campaigners demand clampdown on sugar from brands

Health experts have banded together to put pressure on the government and the food industry to cut the sugar content of products claiming the marketing ploys to reverse the UK’s obesity crisis have been ‘ineffective’.

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Health experts are calling on brands to reduce the sugar content of their food and drink products.

The Action on Sugar group, which is modeled on the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) campaign group, is taking aim at consumer food products “full of hidden sugars” in a bid to encourage manufacturers to reduce the ingredient. It is also asking brands to stop advertising sugary drinks and snacks to children claiming the ingredient has become the “alcohol of childhood”.

The group will set targets for food and drink makers to reduce the level of sugar by up to 30% over the next three to five years so that consumers do not notice the difference in taste. The targets could resemble those set by the Government’s Responsibility Deal, however Action on Sugar claims its changes would cull around 100 calories a day for those consumers who are particularly susceptible to obesity.

Manufacturers who do not meet the targets, should be fined by the government or a Sugar Tax should be introduced, the group has also proposed. It has highlighted flavoured water, sports drinks, yoghurts, ketchup, ready meals and bread as products containing larger amounts of sugar and should be altered by brands.

Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, who is professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine and formed CASH in 1995, says the industry must “now tackle” the obesity epidemic both in the UK and worldwide. It will launch campaigns, similarly to those to highlight the large quantities of salt in certain products, in the coming months.  

MacGregor adds: “This is a simple plan which gives a level playing field to the food industry, and must be adopted by the Department of Health to reduce the completely unnecessary and very large amounts of sugar the food and soft drink industry is currently adding to our foods.”

The Government responded to the announcement by highlighting the gains it has made to reduce calories through its Responsibility Deal with the industry. It cited Coca-Cola reducing calories in some of its soft drink brands by up to 30% and Mars shrinking single chocolate portions to no more than 250 calories as examples of its efforts to curb obesity.

A Department of Health spokeswoman adds: “Helping people eat fewer calories, including sugar, is a key part of the Responsibility Deal and our efforts to reduce obesity. There are 38 businesses signed up to reduce calories, but we want to go further still, and are discussing this with the food industry.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents the interests of food and drink manufacturers in the UK, echoed the government’s response.  It denied sugar was responsible for rising obesity and said the industry is already providing clear information sugar levels in food through figures and on-pack labelling.

Barbara Gallani, Director of Regulation, Science and Health at the FDF, says: “Sugars, or any other nutrient for that matter, consumed as part of a varied and balanced diet are not a cause of obesity, to which there is no simple or single solution.”

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