Sugar content in food drink could be cut by 20% over the next four years in the UK, according to leaked details of a long-awaited government strategy to combat childhood obesity that is expected to be published later today.
However, campaigners say they fear the plans will not address issues such as cut-price promotions of junk food or how junk food and other products are advertised on television – moves which had been favoured by some public health experts.
The plans are also widely expected to include more details about plans for a levy on sugary drinks in England, following on from an initiative announced earlier this year.
The director-general of the Food and Drink Federation which is the voice of UK food and drink manufacturing, Ian Wright, said: “Food and drink manufacturers recognise our responsibility in meeting the challenges posed by obesity. Government has acknowledged that working in partnership with industry on a voluntary basis is the best way to make progress on this crucial issue. We are committed to that partnership.”
Wright said: “The proposed tax on soft drinks is a disappointing diversion from effective measures to tackle obesity. Soft drink companies are already making great progress to reduce sugars from their products, having achieved a 16% reduction between 2012 and 2016.”
“However the target set for sugars reduction in the plan is flawed,” Wright said. “It focuses too strongly on the role of this single nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient. Moreover the target is unlikely to be technically practical across all the selected food categories. Reformulation is difficult and costly: there are different challenges for each product; recipe change can only proceed at a pace dictated by consumers. We will of course do everything we can in the next six months to work towards a practicable reformulation solution while continuing to urge the government to adopt a ‘whole diet’ approach.”
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar and Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) said the strategy, if confirmed, “is an insulting response to the UK crisis in obesity type 2 diabetes both in children and adults”. “This will bankrupt the National Health Service unless something radical is done,” he said.