United Biscuits

The new government should scrap the voluntary sugar reduction programme and instead bring in new taxes across a raft of food categories, claims new research published by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Products including cakes, biscuits and chocolate should be targeted, according to research in the WHO’s latest bulletin.

It features research from experts at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) calling for policies to tackle obesity, diabetes and tooth disease, and accusing previous voluntary measures of having virtually no impact on levels of sugar in diets.

The researchers analysed the impact of the soft drinks sugar levy, which was introduced in 2018, compared to the sugar reduction programme, which came in three years earlier under Public Health England, and was subsequently continued by its replacement the Office for Health Improvements and Disparities (OHID).

The levy led to a 34.3% fall in total sugar sales, compared to just a 3.5% drop in the amount of sugar used in the manufacture of foods covered by the voluntary sugar reduction targets, which had called for a 20% reduction.

Dr Kawther Hashem, co-author and lecturer in public health nutrition at QMUL, called on ministers to trial a sugar tax-style levy on products among those showing little progress, including chocolate at 0.9% less, biscuits 3.1% and cakes 3.2%.

Hashem said the levy should also be used to cut the amount of sugar in sweetened milk-based drinks.

“Given the proven success of the soft drinks industry levy at incentivising reformulation, we therefore recommend policymakers consider applying a similar levy to other discretionary products that are key contributors to sugar intake,” says the report.

It found the sugar tax had helped to reduce obesity in teenage girls and bring about a fall in the number of children admitted to hospital for tooth decay.

Co-author Graham MacGregor, chairman of campaign groups Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, added: “Unhealthy food which contains too much salt, sugar and fat and lacks in fruit, vegetables and fibre is now the major cause of death in the world. The new government needs to control the food industry rather than being subservient to its products.”

Calls from AOS to extend the sugar tax will come as little shock to the industry. Last week The Grocer revealed food bosses believe Labour is preparing to revive Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy if it wins the general election, raising the prospect of a wave of taxes on HFSS products.

The former heath tsar’s landmark 2021 report included proposals for the soft drinks levy to be replaced by a much wider set of taxes on HFSS food, payable by supermarkets, suppliers and the hospitality sector.

The Leon restaurant founder’s plans have been ignored by ministers under successive Tory leaders.