Sugar ‘obsession’ could skew obesity strategy

By Alice Foster contact

- Last updated on GMT

Professor Paul Gately spoke at a childhood obesity conference last week
Professor Paul Gately spoke at a childhood obesity conference last week

Related tags: sugar tax, Obesity

Britain’s “complete obsession” with sugar could skew the government’s childhood obesity strategy due next month, warns a leading obesity expert, who was dismissive of a sugar tax.

Professor Paul Gately, director of weight-loss support group MoreLife, fears that vital anti-obesity measures could be eclipsed by the fierce sugar tax debate over the past six months.

“I am nervous that the focus on one particular nutrient might drive the agenda rather than evidence,”​ Gately told

“I hope that whole obesity strategy is not focused on sugar. I hope it is much broader, more considered, recognises the complexity of obesity and tackles it in a multi-dimensional way.”  

Helped thousands

View on sugar tax

“It will probably have a negligible impact.” 

  • Professor Paul Gately, director, MoreLife

Gately, who has helped thousands of obese people to lose weight, gave the warning at a childhood obesity conference held by the Dairy Council in London last week.

Earlier this week the World Health Organisation backed the idea of a sugar tax, but Gately dismissed the proposal as a “low-level”​ tool.

“There’s part of me that thinks let’s just institute a sugar tax and then that will stop all the noise and talk and discussion,”​ he said.

‘Negligible impact”

“It will probably have a negligible impact, but it will tick the box of all the people who have been fighting for it for so long. Then we will be able to crack on with the job at hand.”

The battle lines were drawn over the idea of a sugar tax, which has dominated the discussions, focus of stakeholders and press coverage, he said.

“We all agree sugar is overconsumed. But why is it overconsumed? It’s not simply because it’s cheap,” ​he said.

From working with obese people and understanding their lives, he believed that a sugar tax would not really have an impact on their behaviour.

‘Attitudes around obesity’

“But I can see there are many things that can impact their behaviour: more support, more guidance, changing the attitudes around obesity,”​ he said.  

He argued that there is currently almost no support​ for the one in three schoolchildren who have weight-related problems that could shorten their lives.

Gately is professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Beckett University and founded MoreLife – an organisation that runs weight-loss summer camps and programmes for children.

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