The report, a review of the international evidence on how to tackle rising sugar consumption, is clear and urgent from its very first line – ‘We are eating too much sugar and it is bad for our health’ – that radical action is needed if that trend is to be reversed.
This follows a week of controversy where ministers and public health officials were called to account by the Health Select Committee, chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, for their lack of action with regards to tackling childhood obesity. This is a key public health issue give that 10% of four- to five-year-olds and 19% of 10- to 11-year-olds in England are obese. There is strong evidence to show that these children are at increased risk of serious chronic illnesses such as Type-2 diabetes and heart disease, and it is believed many of these children will die before their parents.
The committee, led by Dr Sarah Wollaston, was highly critical of the government’s failure to respond to the crisis quickly enough. The hearing received a lot of publicity when Jamie Oliver called for a national sugar tax. Although this has the support of organisations like Action for Sugar, the Government is believed not to be keen, reportedly saying it will be ‘a tax on the poor’. The Government’s position will be clearer in the New Year, when David Cameron will announce his obesity framework review.
Not everyone is slow off the mark, though. Brighton and Hove council has already decided to put in place a sugar tax, as part of the national Sugar Smart initiative.
Jamie Oliver said: ‘I am delighted that Brighton and Hove City Council is launching a city-wide initiative to raise awareness around the dangers of consuming too much sugar and the link to obesity and diet-related diseases.'
‘This is exactly what we need to try to tackle the rise in obesity and diet-related disease. Today, studies show, that one in three of our children are leaving primary school overweight or obese and these children are likely to be the first generation that will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
‘Brighton and Hove City Council is leading the way with Sugar Smart and I hope that we can see real and significant change across the city, giving the children of Brighton and Hove a healthier future. I also hope this inspires other councils around the UK to follow Brighton and Hove’s lead.’
Tam Fry, spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum and expert advisory member for Action on Sugar said: ‘The Brighton initiative was mentioned in the Health Committee by Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE's chief nutritionist, as being a good act to follow. The Government would be seriously misguided not to try a sugary drinks tax nationally for the same reasons. If it hasn't worked by the next general election, scrap it, but I have a hunch that it will.’
• The PHE report can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sugar-reduction-from-evidence-into-action
• SAVE THE DATE! On 25 February we are holding an obesity event in London. This will give HCPs the first opportunity to hear the latest evidence from David Cameron’s Obesity framework from senior public health officials and experts and ask questions about how it will affect them at community level. More details will be available online soon and in the next issue of Journal of Family Health.