UK government hints at sugar cutting campaign

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sugar, Nutrition

A new campaign to reduce sugar levels in foods and consumer diets
in order to tackle the national obesity problem is reportedly being
considered by the UK government, to run after the current attack on
salt is over, writes Chris Mercer.

The move would mean more pressure on companies such as those in the baking, confectionery and beverage industries to cut back on sugar levels in processed foods such as cakes, snacks and fizzy drinks.

The announcement was made by Imogen Sharp, the Department of Health's Head of Health Improvement, at a recent Royal College of General practitioners' (RCGP) conference.

Speaking at the conference, Sharp said: "Sugar is next, once the present campaign on salt is over. We will be looking at a campaign to reduce the amount of sugar people are eating."

The RCGP welcomed the proposed tougher stance even though the Department of Health has insisted there are no plans laid as yet.

"It is good news that the government is going to take this problem seriously at last. Sugar is a major problem that leads to obesity, diabetes and other serious medical conditions,"​ said obesity spokesperson Dr. Graham Archard.

24 million people, almost half the UK population, are currently either overweight or obese and a recent report by market analysts Mintel​ says 50 per cent of the nation's children may be obese by the year 2020.

According to national guidelines, children should be consuming a maximum of 50 grams of sugar daily, but many are exceeding this level. It is not yet known what kind of limit the government might set on sugar levels in processed foods.

Highly processed sugar, often appearing as carbohydrates in processed foods, is said to contain no nutrients, such as fibre or protein, which are useful to the body, but instead constitutes excess calories that are merely stored as fat.

Director of the UK's Sugar Bureau, Dr. Richard Cottrell, said sugar was a valuable source of nutrition and energy as part of a balanced diet and opposed any government campaign to reduce sugar levels. "I would question the justification for focusing on sugar. There is no evidence linking increased sugar intake with obesity,"​ he said.

Cottrell said that sugar intake was not the most important issue in improving peoples' health. "What we need to do is make people understand the importance of variety in the diet and our major focus in this country should be on getting people to do more physical exercise,"​ he said.

One Rotherham GP at the Royal Society conference questioned the government's commitment to tackling obesity in general. "Why should we believe you when we have seen fast food outlets allowed in hospitals, junk food vending machines in schools and sports playing fields sold off for profits?"​ said Dr. Martin Clark.

Next month the UK government will unveil its White Paper on public health, something which is expected to clamp down on the quality and content of school meals.

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