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Cut fat, salt and sugar in foods, public tells food industry

Most respondents to Diabetes UK survey want to make it easier to eat more healthily

Caroline White

Monday, 08 February 2016

Most British adults want food manufacturers to cut the amount of saturated fat, salt and added sugar in their products to make it easier to eat more healthily, show the results of a survey carried out by charity Diabetes UK.

Out of a representative sample of 2,036 British adults, who were surveyed last month, 69% of 18 – 24 year olds said food manufacturers should reduce the amount of saturated fat, added sugar and salt in their products, rising to 80% among those aged 65 and over.

People across all social groups felt equally strongly on the issue, with no difference between people who earned more or less, or between those working in the public or private sectors, the responses show.

Diabetes UK is urging the government to include mandatory targets for food manufacturers to make their products healthier in its Childhood Obesity Strategy, which is due to be published soon.  

This would help to limit calorie intake and so would make it easier for people to eat more healthily, says the charity.

Under the previous Coalition, the industry was encouraged to cut the content of unhealthy ingredients in processed foods under the terms of the Responsibility Deal.

Some cuts have been made, but not enough, and not fast enough, say critics, arguing that progress will stall without mandatory measures.

The food industry has reduced levels of salt in food significantly over the past 10 years, and now it’s time for them to tackle high levels of sugar and fat as well, says the charity. 

It is also calling on the government to introduce a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened soft drinks and to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods before the 9pm watershed to reduce exposure to children.

These measures have the backing of the Obesity Health Alliance, a grouping of 26 charities and medical organisations, including Diabetes UK.

Currently, almost two thirds of adults in the UK and almost a third of children in the UK in their final year of primary school are overweight or obese, which puts them at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 

Diabetes UK has warned that if the government doesn’t get better at helping people to maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of developing diabetes, the number of people living with the condition and its associated complications will continue to soar. 

“Too often making the healthy choice has become the difficult choice. The government’s forthcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy offers a perfect opportunity to get this right,” said Chris Askew, Diabetes UK Chief Executive.

“Mandatory targets for food manufacturers to make the content of their products healthier must be at the heart of the strategy. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the British public want food manufacturers to make their products healthier shows that the government has nothing to lose and everything to gain in implementing this measure,” he added. 

“If we get this right, we can save millions of lives and significantly reduce costs to our already stretched health service.”

Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health agreed.

“The survey acts as a timely reminder to the government as they prepare their obesity strategy on the importance voters place on seeing obesity tackled. It is time we act and get this huge public health risk solved,” he said.

But he added: “A reduction on fat, salt and added sugar on food products alone will not overcome this issue alone, however. It is also important we see the introduction of additional interventions such as a tax on sugar - which has over 50% of support in the UK – as well as better educating young people around positive health and wellbeing by making PSHE a statutory subject in all schools.”

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