Blog: Dean BestHow ABF is fighting back on sugar

Dean Best | 17 September 2014

The health story of 2014 has been the debate over the impact sugar has on obesity. The issue hit the headlines in January and has stayed there, with only yesterday (16 September) a study published in the UK calling for consumption guidelines to be cut. Industry has faced a tide of criticism and is battling growing consumer concern. The owners of British Sugar is taking matters into its own hands.

Associated British Foods' AB Sugar division has launched a campaign it claims will "inform and educate people" about the ingredient. Making Sense of Sugar will "debunk myths" and "provide factual and helpful information" to "confused consumers".

Mark Carr, CEO of AB Sugar, said the campaign underlined the company's "commitment to help tackle the UK's obesity challenge".

He said: "Obesity is a complex issue that has no single cause. Current scientific consensus points to the over-consumption of calories in all its forms and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, rather than obesity being a result of a single ingredient, such as sugar."

Citing states from the UK government, Carr added: "In fact, as obesity rates continue to rise total sugars in the diet have actually fallen by almost 12% per capita in the past decade."

The campaign includes a website - www.makingsenseofsugar.com - and a Twitter page - @senseofsugar - where consumers can find information about the ingredient and latest campaign news.

But is that enough? The launch by academics in the UK, US and Canada of Action on Sugar in January was swiftly followed by UK TV documentaries like 'Are You Addicted To Sugar?' and 'Sugar vs Fat' to look at the impact consumption of the ingredient can have on health.

The study published yesterday in the BMC Public Health Journal calling for the WHO's recommendation on sugar intake to be lowered from 5% of energy intake to 3% was reportedly widely here in the UK and consumers are taking note.

The UK food industry can claim - with some justification - that obesity is a multi-faceted issue but, if they believe in that position, there needs to be a stronger push to cut through what they perceive as anti-sugar headlines.

Of course, in the meantime, regulators are facing increasing pressure to act on the level of sugar in foods. 

Away from advertising campaigns, perhaps in the longer term industry would be better served considering a pledge to reduce the level of added sugars in foods, which, as our contributing editor Ben Cooper reported this summer, could be of interest to regulators being hit with calls to introduce fiscal policy.

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