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Ditch added sugars in food to reverse obesity epidemic, say doctors

New campaign group, Action on Sugar, is calling on food manufacturers to clean up their act

Caroline White

Thursday, 09 January 2014

Targets should be set for manufacturers to curb the amount of sugar that is added to our food products, and the public need to be much better informed about the hidden calories in their diet, says a new campaign group, which officially launches today.

Action on Sugar, which is chaired by Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London,  and made up of influential doctors and thinkers,  says that reductions in the sugar content of manufactured food and drink products is essential if the rising tide of obesity and diabetes is to be reversed.

Added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of daily energy intake. This is about 70g (17.5 teaspoons) for men and 50g (12.5 teaspoons) for women, although it varies, depending on size, age, and how active a person is.

The group plans to adopt a similar approach to that pioneered by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), which is behind Action on Sugar.

CASH has succeeded in getting targets set for food manufacturers to add less salt to all of their products over a period of time. As a result salt intake fell by 15% between 2001 and 2011 in the UK, and the salt content of most supermarket products has tumbled by between 20% and 40%.

It is thought that this has cut the number of strokes and heart attack deaths each year by 6000, and saved the NHS £1.5bn.

Action on Sugar calculates that a 20-30% reduction in added sugars in manufactured food products within 3-5 years is easily achievable for industry, and would lop around 100 kilocalories off an individual’s daily dietary intake.

This could make big inroads into the rising tide of obesity and reduce the prevalence of chronic disease, says the campaign group.

A can of regular Coke contains 9 teaspoons of added sugar, but flavoured water, sports drinks, fruit/flavoured yogurts, ketchup, ready meals and bread are among the everyday foods that contain large amounts of hidden sugars. 

Action on Sugar intends to stage a public education campaign about the need to become more sugar aware in terms of understanding the impact of sugar on health, checking labels when shopping, and avoiding products with high sugar content.

Children are particularly at risk, because they are more vulnerable to the effects of high sugar intake, says Action on Sugar.

The group also wants to see much better nutritional labelling on processed foods so that consumers understand how much sugar these products contain and what that means for their health.

If food manufacturers refuse to reduce the sugar content of their foods, the government should impose a sugar tax, says the group.

“The Responsibility Deal has... had no effect on calorie intake and we must start a coherent and structured plan to slowly reduce the amount of calories people consume by slowly taking out added sugar from foods and soft drinks,” said Professor MacGregor.

Cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, Dr Aseem Malhotra, said that added sugar served no purpose.

“Aside from being a major cause of obesity, there is increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver. We must particularly protect children from this public health hazard. The food industry needs to immediately reduce the amount of sugar that they are adding, particularly to children’s foods, and stop targeting children with massive advertising for high calorie snacks and soft drinks,” he declared.

Professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, UK, Simon Capewell dubbed sugar “the new tobacco.”

He warned:  “Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focused on profit not health.  The obesity epidemic is already generating a huge burden of disease and death. Obesity and diabetes already costs the UK over £5billion every year. Without regulation, these costs will exceed £50billion by 2050”.

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