cereal breakfast

Action on Sugar is at it again. It recently called for a ban on child-orientated packaging on cereal, as it seeks to take stringent action against the producers – and consumers – of these goods.

Not only are these activists calling for creeping regulatory overreach to accelerate, but also, more damningly, they are ignoring the science around sustainable weight loss.

Getting rid of cartoon characters, animations, vibrant colours, brand mascots and the like is more akin to a drive towards plain packaging than a simple mascot ban, and represents a slippery slope towards complete brand erosion. Brands should therefore be very concerned.

This marks a break from the approach so far. Previously, it was about what went into the packet that campaigners and authorities tried to influence. Now it’s about the packet itself.

The thinking seems to be that if people don’t see colourful pictures and adverts, they will simply eat less sugar and the weight will drop off. That’s just not true.

Even the Mayo Clinic says weight loss is not a matter of willpower and that there are powerful forces causing us to eat more and do less activity. Strategies, it says, “need to be practical, realistic and enjoyable enough to be sustainable” – a far cry from the punitive approach favoured by health activists.

If the government was serious about tackling the obesity crisis, it would be making semaglutide easily available on the NHS rather than restricting it to diabetes patients, and investing heavily in open spaces, school-based PE programmes, community and sports facilities, and youth clubs that get young people out of their houses.

It is typical of bureaucratic short-termism to respond to a very complex health crisis with a one-dimensional and ineffective solution.

As for the activists, as the adage goes: when you’re a hammer, every problem is a nail. Action on Sugar has made its name on the back of its anti-sugar drive for so long that it is blind to any other route to solving obesity.

Rather than incentivising people to eat healthily, get outside and move around more, they are reaching for the plain packaging playbook, and going straight to the punishment.

The packaging suggestions will destroy brand value that has been built up over decades. And where will it end? What joyless, dystopian future awaits us all? Will coffee be next because caffeine is known to raise blood pressure, or is alcohol going to get the same treatment?

Action on Sugar’s plans go beyond any reasonable restriction on business. Yes, we need a sensible debate on sugar consumption, but not Soviet-style plain packaging and the erosion of choice.