Food and drink manufacturers were wrong to think that sponsorship of sporting events alone would absolve them of their responsibility in reversing the nation’s obesity epidemic, Dr Alison Tedstone told Food Manufacture.
“Is it good enough for manufacturers to, on the one hand, acknowledge that they are contributing to the obesity problem, and acknowledge that they are contributing to children having teeth extracted, but then on the other, say they’ll sponsor some Saturday afternoon football?” said Tedstone, who is chief nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE).
Plan to reduce childhood obesity
Tedstone acknowledged that some progress had been made by manufacturers ahead of the 20% sugar reduction target set by PHE across nine key food groups by 2020, as part of its plan to reduce childhood obesity.
She was also pleased that the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, due to be implemented in April 2018, “was having a major effect”.
“We’re seeing sugar being taken out of some big brands – Lucozade, Ribena, Irn-Bru. It’s great to see that leadership,” Tedstone said. “The other important thing about the levy is that it’s helped the wider reformulation programme that PHE is leading.”
In response, the Food and Drink Federation said food and drink manufacturers were well aware of their responsibilities on obesity and were taking a range of measures, such as reformulation and limiting portion sizes, to address the problem.
Reformulation and limiting portion size
“We also know that physical activity is important for health. That’s why, in addition to looking at the products they sell, lots of food and drink companies support British sport, from grassroots initiatives in their communities and workforce to national competitions,” a FDF spokeswoman said.
However, last month, it was revealed that 18 of the UK’s leading crisp, confectionery and sugary drinks manufacturers spent more than £143M on advertising their products in 2016.
The figure dwarfed the £5.2M spent on PHE’s Change4Life healthy eating campaign, according to the Obesity Health Alliance.