alison tedstone quote web

The government’s ambition to cut 20% of sugar in foods most popular with children by 2020 is unrivalled anywhere in the world.

It aims to improve the health of millions of people and reduce the burden of obesity-related illness on our health services, and gives UK businesses the opportunity to highlight innovation in making healthier products that people can still enjoy.

Success depends on how the food and drink industry engages and participates in the programme, and our interaction with more than 100 companies from across the sector has instilled confidence that they have the creativity, the know-how and the desire to make sugar reduction a reality.

Commitment from major players is encouraging: Nestlé has pledged to reduce the amount of sugar across its chocolate range by 10%, while General Mills has announced its Petits Filous range will contain 17% less sugar.

All food businesses have a key role to play in tackling childhood obesity, and we have no time to lose. Children eat around three times more than the recommended amount of sugar and a third of children leave primary school overweight or obese. Tooth extraction is the number one reason why five to nine-year-old children are admitted to hospital. Overweight children are more likely to be overweight adults, with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Obesity is costing the NHS £6bn a year, with a wider cost to the economy of £27bn.

This is preventable, but it needs to be easier for families to make healthier choices. Reformulation, can be challenging, but from our work on salt we know it works. Demand from consumers is already there: surveys show 49% think unhealthy snacks should be smaller and 91% of people think cheap fast food is too readily available.

Thanks to the feedback we have had from industry, the programme allows as much flexibility as possible, setting out the options for how the food and drink industry can reduce the amount of sugar in children’s diets. We want all sectors to take part, including retailers, manufacturers, and the out-of-home sector - restaurants, cafés, pubs, takeaways, and cinemas etc.

It is estimated that eating out of home forms 20% of energy intake for women and 25% for men. Research also shows 24% of families with children have eaten fast food in the last seven days. So it’s vital the whole of this sector engages with the sugar reduction programme.

However, commercial data for out-of-home is limited compared with retail and manufacturing. We have collected as much information as possible, but there are gaps. We have asked out-of-home businesses to show leadership, - some have already shown willing. But out-of-home needs to commit further. We will continue to work with the sector to expand and improve the data so we can assess the progress as accurately as possible.

I hope that the steps that we have taken, from roundtable discussions to one-to-one meetings, will show that both PHE and the government are committed to driving an even playing field. However we cannot do this alone. All of industry needs to play their part including The eating out-of-home industry which needs to get on board and commit further to help make this programme a success for the health of millions of children.

We have one of the most diverse and thriving food industries in the world, and we want 2017 to be the year it gets serious about sugar. Our report provides baseline sugar levels across the nine food categories with guidelines to meet the programme’s targets of a 5% sugar reduction by August 2017 and 20% by 2020, and we will report on this progress in March 2018. Businesses have made a strong start - now we want to see them be more ambitious, more innovative, and to work with us to create a culture shift in the way we consume food and a transformation in the numbers of children who are overweight or obese.

Alison Tedstone is chief nutritionist of PHE