Global campaign targets food industry over high sugar levelsFebruary 2014
A group of medical and nutrition specialists is working via official channels to persuade UK manufacturers to add less sugar to food.
Action on Sugar will press the government and its health department to set acceptable sugar levels in products and to introduce legislation to impose them if informal approaches to food companies fail.
Another objective is to enforce labelling by food companies clearly showing the sugar content of processed foods.
The unprecedented campaign is aimed at reversing the rising rate of obesity and the resulting increase in diabetes incidence.
The present annual cost of the two health problems to the UK is more than £5bn ($8.2bn, €6bn), but this is predicted to hit £50bn by 2050 unless action is taken.
The campaign will be accompanied by a public health drive to deter shoppers from buying products full of hidden sugars, including many calorie-dense snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks intended to attract children.
The campaigners give as examples a 330ml bottle of Coca-Cola containing nine teaspoonfuls of sugar and 30g of Kellogg’s Frosties containing four teaspoonfuls.
The action group believes concentrating on the food producers with the government and its ministry is the best way to tackle the obesity epidemic, and that this strategy enables the industry to shift towards healthier options without noticeably sacrificing profits.
The campaigners calculate that their policy will easily achieve a 20%-30% lowering of added sugar in food within five years.
The group is based at the London offices of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and is chaired by Graham MacGregor, its professor of cardiovascular medicine.
MacGregor said: “The present government and Department of Health Responsibility Deal have been shown to have had no effect on calorie intake, and we must start a coherent and structured plan to slowly reduce the amount of calories people consume by slowly taking out added sugar from foods and soft drinks.
“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 drinks industry is currently adding to our foods.”
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, who is the group’s science director, said: “The food industry needs to immediately reduce the amount of sugar that they are adding, particularly to children’s foods, and stop targeting children with massive advertising for high-calorie snacks and soft drinks.”
Action on Sugar was formed by the team that established Consensus Action on Salt and Health, known as Cash, in 1996.
The UK’s salt intake subsequently fell by 15% between 2001 and 2011, and the salt content of supermarket products by 20%-40%. The number of strokes and heart attacks is estimated to have been cut by 6,000 as a result, and healthcare savings are put at £1.5bn.
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