The obesity problem was “more than about sugar”, and it was time for government bodies to engage with the food industry on the role calories and fat played in the debate, claimed Emma Reed, programme director for the prevention of obesity and diabetes at the Department of Health (DH).
Addressing delegates at the annual Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Convention, held in London last month, Reed – who authored last year’s government childhood obesity plan – was “delighted” at the leadership shown by the food and drink industry in reducing sugar in soft drinks ahead of next year’s levy.
However, she added: “Sugar isn’t the single item that we need to address. We made it very clear through our obesity plan that sugar is a part of a real concentrated look at nutrients in our food, and we do need to start considering how calories and fat forms part of our food.”
Made the levy a success
Reed also claimed that the level of reformulation that had taken place in soft drinks had already made the levy a success.
“It’s a very rare and unexpected moment when people at the Treasury tell you how excited they are about how little money they expect to get from the levy,” she said.
“They have revised the figures that they are expecting to get from the sugar levy, down to about £350M a year,” Reed added. “That already shows that the real intent of the levy, which served as a lever for industry to reformulate, has really worked.”
The move towards a whole calorie approach was supported at the convention by Premier Foods chief executive Gavin Darby. Darby, who is also FDF president, said it was “more logical to look at the wider issue of calories rather than just sugar”. He claimed to be encouraged that this was starting to be recognised by the government.
Link between obesity and poverty
The government’s change in focus came as a report by NHS Health Scotland found a growing link between obesity and poverty in the country.
The report, published at the end of July, revealed that little progress had been made towards improving the Scottish diet in the last 20 years.
Commenting on the report, Heather Peace, head of nutrition science and policy at Food Standards Scotland said: “It is particularly concerning to see the widening gaps between the richest and the poorest in our society in terms of obesity.
“In our view, regulation could play a significant part in creating a healthier environment, and without it, we face the very real prospect of increasing diet-related ill health and unsustainable burdens on the NHS and our economy.”