The review, Sugar reduction: the evidence for action, concludes that a range of factors, including marketing, promotions, advertising and the amount of sugar in manufactured food, is contributing to an increase in sugar consumption. A correspondingly broad range of measures is needed in response.
The evidence review shows that action to reduce sugar consumption levels could include, but is not limited to, reducing:
- the volume and number of price promotions in retail and restaurants
- the marketing and advertising of high sugar products to children
- the sugar content in and portion size of everyday food and drink products
The review also suggests consideration of a price increase, through a tax or a levy, as a means of reducing sugar intake, though this is likely to be less effective than the three measures set out above.
Other conclusions from the review include setting a clear definition of high sugar foods; adopting the government buying standards for foods and catering services; delivering accredited training on diet and health to all who work in catering, fitness and leisure sectors; and continuing to raise awareness of practical steps to reduce sugar consumption.
Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE), said:
PHE’s evidence review shows there is no silver bullet solution to the nation’s bad sugar habit. A broad and balanced approach is our best chance of reducing sugar consumption to healthier levels and to see fewer people suffering the consequences of too much sugar in the diet.
We’ve shared out findings with the Government and are working with them on its childhood obesity strategy.
Children and young people consume 3 times the recommended amount of sugar on average, with adults consuming more than double. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recently recommended that sugar makes up no more than 5% of daily calorie intake: 30g or 7 cubes of sugar per day. The Government adopted the advice as official dietary advice in July this year.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and related health and dental problems. In England, almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese; a tenth of 4 to 5 year olds and almost a fifth of 10 to 11 year olds are obese. Treating obesity and its consequences alone currently costs the NHS £5.1 billion every year.
If the nation dropped its sugar intake to recommended levels within 10 years, over 4,000 early deaths and over 200,000 cases of tooth decay would be avoided and the burden of diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes would be reduced, saving the NHS around £480 million every year.
The Department of Health commissioned the evidence review from PHE following publication of the draft SACN report on Carbohydrates and Health in June 2014. PHE has since reviewed hundreds of studies from around the world. Some of the findings include:
- Children are exposed to a high volume of marketing and advertising in many forms.
- Marketing in all its many forms consistently influences food preference, choice and purchasing in children and adults. End of aisle displays, for example, leads to a 50% increase in purchases of fizzy drinks.
- Food promotions are more widespread in Britain than anywhere else in Europe, accounting for around 40% of all domestic food and drink spending. This increases the size of families shopping baskets by a fifth and means they are taking home 6% more sugar.
- A structured sugar reformulation programme could lead to a significant reduction in sugar consumption. The evidence showed if the sugar content of soft drinks was reduced by half, the sugar consumption of children under 10 and adults over 19 would decrease by 5g and for those in between, 11g.
- Increasing the price of high sugar food and drink, through taxation or a levy, is likely to reduce purchases of these products, at least in the short term.
- The public sector spends £2.4 billion a year on catering. Requiring caterers all to follow the government buying standards for food and catering services will ensure accountability for providing food meeting nutritional standards.
The government will use the PHE evidence review to inform its development of a childhood obesity strategy, due in the coming months.
Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: www.gov.uk/phe. Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland.
PHE’s sugar evidence review is available on GOV.UK.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) final report on Carbohydrates and Health is available on GOV.UK.
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