Public Health England (PHE) published a report this week on sugar called ‘Sugar Reduction: The Evidence For Action. It said there should be a sugar tax of between 10 – 20% and a crackdown on unhealthy foods and advertising them to children. Sugar has been linked to obesity and diabetes for some time. Obesity is a huge problem and rising with the NHS already having to spend more money on ever increasing numbers of obese patients and adapting service and equipment needed to treat them.

The report said sugar was a huge health problem and government should urgently address the damage sugar was doing to the nation’s health. In particular fizzy drinks and snacks were highlighted as major offenders. Public Health England made eight recommendations and suggested what it feels are the most effective ways to reduce sugar intake.

PHE says its eight recommendations will help the country achieve a lower recommended daily intake of sugar (5% of total energy, recently down from 10%), save lives from weight-related diseases, cut tooth decay, and save the NHS money.

Specifically, it estimates that if average UK sugar consumption is cut to no more than 5% of total energy intake per person, it would within five years:

  • prevent 4,700 deaths per year
  • prevent 242,000 cases of tooth decay per year
  • save the NHS £576 million per year

One of the most controversial suggestions is the tax on sugar of around 10-20%. They also suggested a reduction in price promotions at supermarkets like buy one get one free and a reduction in the marketing of high-sugar food and drink to kids. Sugary drinks come under particular fire for boosting sugar consumption without adding any nutritional value, particularly in kids and teenagers, who drink them the most.

The report does make the point that “no single action will be effective in reducing sugar intakes”.

The report recommends that:

  • children aged 4-6 years should eat no more than 19 grams of sugar a day (5 cubes or 4-5 teaspoons)
  • children aged 7-10 years should eat no more than 24 grams of sugar a day (6 cubes or 5-6 teaspoons)
  • children and adults aged 11 years or over should eat no more than 30 grams of sugar a day (7 cubes or 6-7 teaspoons)

This now puts pressure on the government, who have ruled out a sugar tax in the short-term, to respond.

Most independent dieticians and experts appear to welcome the suggestions in the report but are cautious of beginning a ‘war on sugar’ that will miss out other important factors in tackling obesity.

Professor of Metabolic Medicine at Glasgow University, Vaeed Sattar, said: “to tackle obesity we must do much, much more [than just reduce sugar intake]. In fact, plentiful evidence still points towards excess fat as a major contributor to excess calories (more so than sugar) so we cannot become distracted by this ‘sugar battle’.
Equally, ready access to cheap calorific foods is pervasive and tackling such issues will be difficult. These are difficult issues. Cutting excess calories requires a broader approach and will take many years, but we do have to start somewhere, and ultimately the government needs to take the lead.”

The report recommended:

  • Reduce the number and type of price promotions in all retail outlets, including supermarkets and convenience stores and the out-of-home sector (including restaurants, cafés and takeaways).
  • Significantly reduce opportunities to market and advertise high-sugar food and drink products to children and adults across all media, including digital platforms and through sponsorship.
  • The setting of a clear definition for high-sugar foods to aid with actions 1 and 2 above. Currently the only regulatory framework for doing this is via the Ofcom nutrient profiling model, which would benefit from being reviewed and strengthened.
  • Introduction of a broad, structured and transparently monitored programme of gradual sugar reduction in everyday food and drink products, combined with reductions in portion size.
  • Introduction of a price increase of at least 10-20% on high-sugar products through the use of a tax or levy, such as on full-sugar soft drinks, based on the emerging evidence of the impact of such measures in other countries.
  • Adopt, implement and monitor the government buying standards for food and catering services (GBSF) across the public sector, including national and local government, and the NHS to ensure the provision and sale of healthier food and drinks in hospitals, leisure centres, etc.
  • Ensure accredited training in diet and health is routinely delivered to all those who have opportunities to influence food choices in the catering, fitness and leisure sectors, and others within local authorities.
  • Continue to raise awareness of concerns around sugar levels in the diet to the public, as well as health professionals, employers, the food industry etc. Encourage action to reduce intake and provide practical steps to help people lower their own and their family’s sugar intake.

You can help yourself and your family from consuming too much sugar by taking responsibility and an interest in what you eat, how often and what it contains. If you are concerned about weight or diabetes your local pharmacy can be a good place to start. Advice is free and there can usually offer consultations.