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Action on Sugar


Action on Sugar held a reception and panel discussion at the House of Commons Terrace Pavilion on Wednesday 22nd January 2020 to mark Sugar Awareness Week. 

The reception was sponsored by Andrew Selous MP and was attend by 130 delegates across all sectors including the food and drink industry, NGOs and health care professionals, as well as members of parliament.

We were fortunate to have a great line up of speakers, with varied backgrounds and expertise, who each gave their perspective on our discussion. Our panel guests were:

Exhibiting and supporting our event were Barts Community Smiles, Food Foundation, British Dietetic Association, Association for Nutrition, Share Action and Sugar Smart.

Click here for Sugar Awareness Week Blogs


Summary of speeches

Andrew Selous MP

  • Andrew opened the debate acknowledging that obesity is a complex problem but it's the poorest in society who suffer so we must all speak up
  • He spoke about getting obesity and food up the public agenda: “Go see your member of Parliament and tell them this matters”
  • He pointed to the example of Amsterdam and their city-wide approach to tackling childhood obesity and stated that food manufacturers have a lot to answer for in the UK
  • Education could do much more, but MPs must care more about tackling obesity too, given the impact on the NHS
  • He reiterates that speaking to your MP to highlight obesity and demand action is the best action we can all take. Tell them why it’s important, why it matters to you. Ask them what action they are going to take on this issue

“Food manufacturers have a lot to answer for” said Andrew. Highlighting that food manufacturers are highly responsible for reducing sugar in our diets

  • He also commented that the current labelling policy has ‘a lacuna’. Graham agreed it is a ‘a national disgrace’ that alcohol does not have to display nutritional information
  • Tanya raised the point that reducing sugar in our diets is down to so much more than individual choice. The food industry must support their consumers to live healthier lives
  • Change takes time and the food industry must communicate challenges with reducing sugar. But companies must have a proactive and responsible reduction strategy in place, led from the top down
  • Tanya called out Share Action’s healthy markets campaign and the vital role investors can have in creating healthier food businesses, influencing company healthy food strategies & shift away from junk food

Tanya Haffner

"I think we can all agree that it's no longer about individual responsibility & choice. We must pay attention to (the drivers of) persisting poor health outcomes among our most vulnerable groups."

  • Most deprived areas have twice the high rates of cancer and 4x of cardiovascular disease. Poor nutrition and most fast food outlets in most deprive areas
  • Children consuming twice the amount of sugar than needed, 1 in 4 children have tooth decay. 1 in 3 overweight
  • Reception children – 23% overweight/obese, 10%of which are obese. 3 x more incidents in most deprived areas compare to least deprived areas

Katherine Severi

  • Katherine said so many people suffer from alcohol harm in the UK but due to a lack of political will, stigma or denial, this hasn't been addressed
  • Alcohol - Leading risk factor for death and disability for people aged between 15 and 49 in the UK
  • Alcohol increases the risk factors that are also experienced by obesity
  • Katherine pointed out that it was not right that we have more information on a packet of chewing gum then we do on alcohol
  • Research by the alcohol health alliance UK found that less than 10% of alcohol product labels carry the current CMO lowest drinking guidelines
  • Katherine said nutrition labelling on alcohol is inadequate and more than 78% of the public want more information on what is in their drinks
  • We need to make the healthiest choices the easiest choice, and unhealthier choices less attractive
  • Scotland are leading the way in reducing harm from alcohol. They have introduced minimum unit price for alcohol – 50p per unit. Restricted hours of sale for alcohol. They are proposing marketing restrictions, waiting a consultation and England must now follow suit – we need a new alcohol strategy
  • Katherine was delighted that action on sugar chose to highlight the sugar content in alcoholic drinks and that it’s important that we work together to make real change happen
  • Katherine and Graham discussed the importance of our environments - if we're expected to make healthier choices, our living environments must enable this

Graham MacGregor

  • Sugar levy is working, sugar reformulation targets aren’t, calorie targets haven’t come through yet
  • Need everything to get together to get the government to start doing something to prevent obesity
  • We decided to look into alcohol – alcohol treated as a different substance to food and drink. Does not have proper labelling
  • Alcohol example – WKD Blue – 700ml (not far over a 500ml bottle of soft drink – realistic to assume someone would drink it all) – Provides 59g sugar (nearly 15tsp sugar – equivalent to over 4 iced doughnuts)
  • Graham spoke on the scandal that many alcohol products are very high in sugar, with the public facing a double burden from calories and sugar in those products
  • Graham said premixed drinks being exempt from the soft drinks industry levy is illogical - if you bought alcohol and the mixer separately the mixer would be taxed
  • Graham reiterates the importance of writing to your MPs

Questions from audience:

  • What is the view on use of sweeteners? Tanya said evidence shows they are safe for use, Graham said they are a valid interim measure
  • Has minimum unit pricing in Scotland had an impact? Katherine said formal analysis is pending but initial indicators are positive
  • The Dental Wellness Trust raised the issue that oral health is suffering from excess sugar intake, Andrew agreed tooth decay must be addressed as a priority


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