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BMA calls on government to support sugar tax

PHE publishes delayed sugar report

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 23 October 2015

The British Medical Association is urging the government to “give urgent consideration” to Public Health England’s delayed sugar report.

PHE, this week, published its review: Sugar reduction: the evidence for action, in which it concluded 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 broad range of measures are needed, concluded PHE, including 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.

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, PHE’s chief nutritionist, 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 three 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.

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 and found that food promotions are more widespread in Britain than anywhere else in Europe, accounting for around 40% of all domestic food and drink spending. 

The government will use the PHE evidence review to inform its development of a childhood obesity strategy, due in the coming months.

Commenting, Professor Sheila Hollins, BMA board of science chair, said: “Doctors are increasingly concerned about the impact of poor diet, which is responsible for up to 70,000 deaths a year, and has the greatest impact on the NHS budget, costing £6bn annually.

“We urge the Government to give real and urgent consideration to Public Health England’s recommendations including restricting the marketing of high-sugar products, reducing promotions of sugary food and drink, and introducing a 10-20% sugar tax.

“While sugar-sweetened drinks are very high in calories they are of limited nutritional value and when people in the UK are already consuming far too much sugar, we are increasingly concerned about how they contribute towards conditions like diabetes.

"It is concerning that a decision was made to delay publication at the same time as the BMA published its own report into the impact of sugar on children and young people, which included calls for a 20% tax on sugary drinks alongside action to restrict the pervasive marketing strategies used by the food and drink industry. It is vital that the government takes on board the concerns already raised by doctors, and now echoed by Public Health England.”

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