Public health interventions work, but simply informing people of the health risks associated with sugar is not effective enough on its own. This is why Public Health England’s work with the industry to transform the way food and drinks are manufactured and purchased will make a real difference to our children’s health.
Over the past year, our work to tackle obesity and tooth decay in children through our sugar reduction programme has gathered pace. We have seen some initial commitments from some of the industry’s biggest players, which are showing a willingness to innovate and provide products with reduced sugar levels. There has been less movement in the out-of-home sector so greater leadership and commitment are needed in this area.
With children consuming three times the recommended amount of sugar daily, it’s imperative we look at a broad range of products contributing towards intakes. This is why drinks outside the scope of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy now form part of our sugar reduction work.
The category covers milk-based drinks like smoothies and milkshakes (at least 75% milk or yoghurt) and juices with no added sugar, both pre-packaged and those sold at cafés, restaurants, fast food chains and entertainment venues. It is clear from our Eatwell Guide that dairy and fruit juice can form part of a healthy balanced diet - within the recommended portions - and can be enjoyed with less sugar.
Parents are relying on the industry to step up and push these changes forward. Last week PHE started meeting retailers, manufacturers, trade bodies and NGOs, and our roundtable drinks meetings were encouraging and constructive. This enabled further face-to-face discussions with industry, health NGOs and other government departments. We were pleased to see representatives from across the dairy and soft drink industries, but also those representing retailers and entertainment venues.
Some of the questions around the technicalities of producing and marketing reformulated products have given us food for thought. This is why it is important to keep these conversations going, so we can address these issues now and work together to create solutions.
We faced similar challenges with the salt reduction work, which set out to reduce salt in foods sold across retail and catering. Launched in 2006, the programme has so far been successful in driving down population intakes of salt by 11%. This shows reformulation can be achieved and that gradually shifting consumers towards healthier options can drive changes in behaviour and attitudes. We are confident that in the very near future it will be inconceivable that our nation’s children ever consumed so much sugar in the first place.
We have extended the invitation to industry to continue to meet with us one to one and engage with us over the summer and into autumn. Compromises may have to be made, but the government expects companies to commit to make progress sooner rather than later.
Dr Alison Tedstone is chief nutritionist at Public Health England