The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) draft report on carbohydrates and health published last week should be a wake-up call to the Government, food industry and consumers.
The SACN report made it clear that as a population we consume too much sugar and too little fibre. Its draft advice is for the population to lower consumption of free sugars (those added to foods and naturally present in syrups and unsweetened juices) to around 5% of daily energy intake. This means 5-6 teaspoons a day for a woman and 7-8 teaspoons for a man.
Across all population groups, we are failing to meet the current advice, let alone this stricter target. More specifically, SACN recommended that the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, such as fizzy drinks and squash be minimised in both children and adults.
Apart from the serious health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers linked to weight gain and tooth decay, there are enormous economic costs. Overweight and obesity is estimated to cost the NHS £4.7 billion per year and tooth decay £3.4 billion. Public Health England is now assessing what measures can be taken to reduce sugar intakes.
Too much sugar and too little fibre
Discussions through the Responsibility Deal have been ongoing but not enough progress has been made on this important issue. While there is a calorie reduction pledge, which 39 companies have signed up to, it is vaguely worded and leaves it to individual companies to determine the level of action they want to take – whether reformulation of their products or information initiatives. More specific action is now needed on sugar in several key areas, addressing both the breadth of companies committed to act and the scale of action they take.
Much clearer industry-wide reduction targets are needed across the key product categories that contribute free sugars to most people’s diets. This includes soft drinks, confectionery, biscuits, cakes and breakfast cereals for example. These should be developed in a similar way to the salt reduction targets, encouraging incremental reductions while taking account of quality and taste.
A much more concerted effort is also needed to tackle promotions. This includes looking at the balance of products that are included in supermarket price and other in-store promotions, but also making sure that there is a much more responsible approach to marketing to children, including teenagers. This is the group that consumes 50% more sugar than is recommended on average, with soft drinks the largest single source.
All population groups are eating too much sugar and much more needs to be done to help people reduce their intake and ultimately tackle the obesity crisis. This includes a far more ambitious approach to the Responsibility Deal, with greater direction from the Government to ensure meaningful change.
While information alone will never be enough, it is now clearly time for those manufacturers who have yet to commit to using traffic light labelling to adopt the national scheme and make it much clearer to people which products are high in sugar.
This post first appeared on The Grocer.