Sugar tax is not the biggest obesity cure

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Sugar will feature large in the government's childhood obesity strategy
Sugar will feature large in the government's childhood obesity strategy

Related tags: Nutrition

Reformulation, together with restrictions on the marketing and promotion of food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar are more important than sugar taxes, according to Public Health England (PHE), which in October called on the government to introduce taxes as one of a raft of measures to curb the UK's obesity epidemic.

“We haven’t said it is all or nothing,”​ said Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s director of diet and obesity, should the government reject its sugar tax proposal when the childhood obesity strategy is published this month.

“PHE does actually rank reformulation, marketing and advertising as potentially having bigger impacts than a tax,”​ Tedstone told a seminar on government policy organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London last month.

Tedstone’s view was supported by the seminar chair, Dr Philippa Whitford MP, member of the Health Select Committee, which produced a report into childhood obesity last November calling for a sugar tax.

Promotions, marketing and reformulation

“It’s the same in the Health Select Committee,”​ said Whitford, who is also the spokeswoman for health with the Scottish National Party. “If you read our report, you will see that promotions, marketing and reformulation rank higher. But we are really facing a major problem so it is looking at every single lever that might work.”

The British Retail Consortium and a number of supermarkets would like to see mandatory targets for sugar set across the board for food and drink to ensure a level playing field.

However, these are not supported by manufacturers, that believe voluntary reformulation is the best way forward.

Impact across sectors

“PHE hasn’t set or proposed sugar targets at the moment,”​ said Tedstone, although she referred to work undertaken to explore their efficacy. “PHE is very keen to see action that assesses impact across food groups and across sectors, so that if you take sugar out of one thing it is not being added with something else.”

She also called for nutrient profiles used to regulate the advertising of food and drink to children to be revised.

It was “frankly ridiculous”​ to focus on sugar alone rather addressing problems of obesity more holistically, said Tim Rycroft, corporate affairs director at the Food and Drink Federation.

Meanwhile, a study claiming reducing sugar content of sugar-sweetened drinks could prevent 1.5M cases of obesity was slammed by the food industry​ today (November 7). 

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