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Health organisations call out Government for continued delay to sugar reduction report as childhood obesity rates climb

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Molly Long
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A group of 40 health organisations, academics and food groups has written an open letter calling on the Government to stop delaying the publication of its sugar reduction report. 

The Sugar Reduction Programme report was expected last year. A concrete date for its publication has still not been finalised – despite the Conservatives suggesting the public would see the report in “early 2022”.

It is thought the report will provide further evidence of the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, while exposing the lack of progress in most other product categories which are also included in the ‘voluntary reduction’ programme. 

Among the signatories of the open letter – which is addressed to health secretary Sajid Javid and MP Maggie Throup – are Diabetes UK, the British Dental Association, Action on Salt and Sugar and the Royal Society for Public Health. 

The continued delays to the sugar reduction report come at a time when childhood obesity is on the rise. 

As the letter notes, the most recent National Child Measurement Programme data indicated a rise in obesity prevalence for both reception age children and those in Year 6. 

According to the data, those living in the most deprived areas of the UK are the worst affected. 

Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign Co-Ordinator at Sustain and signatory of the letter said: “This report is already six months overdue, and with childhood obesity prevalence rising sharply, we should not be wasting any more time. 

“We believe it will reveal the industry leaders and laggards on sugar reduction, and where further mandatory mechanisms need to be targeted. It’s crystal clear that when the government legislates, as it did with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, much faster and deeper progress occurs.”

Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at the Obesity Health Alliance and another signatory added: “Improving the nation’s diets is needed to level up on health and reformulation of everyday foods is one of the most equitable ways to achieve this. 

“It’s vital that the final sugar reduction report is published so it can inform future approaches to incentivising reformulation in a more effective way.”

Some action has already been taken to improve the quality of the nation’s diet. This year marks the fourth anniversary of the aforementioned Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which has been responsible for the removal of 48,000 tonnes of sugar per year from soft drinks sold in the UK. 

The measure has been a success story, the open letter stated. Aside from the reduction of sugar, it has also delivered £878 million in industry levy revenues in the last two years, which have gone towards initiatives like the National School Breakfast Programme and funding primary school sports programmes. 

However other measures have been plagued by disruption and criticism. Like the Sugar Reduction Report, HFSS legislation has been pushed back repeatedly and as a result nearly half of all UK businesses are not ready for its adoption

Meanwhile the recently introduced law requiring restaurants to display calorie counts for meals on their menus has come under fire. Industry leaders claimed the rules had come at the “worst possible time” while eating disorder charity Beat said the move was misinformed and risked worsening a lot of people’s relationship with food. 

Signing off the letter, the group stated the action it hoped to see from the Government. The measures were: 

  • Publish the final Sugar Reduction Report immediately and without further delay 
  • Set out a clear plan to move beyond voluntary sugar reduction programmes and to mandate further healthy food and drink reformulation, including exploration of future fiscal incentives and levers, as well as expansion of the existing SDIL banding and rates
  • Ensure that the Soft Drinks Industry Levy income is used in support of measures to increase children’s access to healthy, affordable food. 

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