At the end of June it was announced that the UK Government may halve the recommended level of added sugar we should eat each day. At about the same time the World Health Organization recommended that we should limit sugar intake to just 5% of our daily calorie intake.
These new recommendations were not introduced out of the blue: they came about as the result of an influential and comprehensive draft report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). The report focuses on carbohydrates and health (sugar is a carbohydrate), and presents clear evidence that increasing consumption of sugar leads to tooth decay, being overweight and obesity. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.
The report and subsequent Government and WHO actions are the latest in a long line of findings and recommendations that throw the spotlight on sugar as an insidious and damaging component of the western diet.
In January of this year academics warned that sugar had become “as dangerous as alcohol and tobacco” in relation to impact on human health, and in March Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer stated that in order to curb obesity in this country we may need to consider a tax on sugar. Last month sugar consumption was directly linked to a rise in dental disease in children.
One result of the SACN draft report is a document from Public Health England (PHE) entitled “Sugar reduction: Responding to the challenge”. The document is the result of a request from the Department of Health asking PHE to respond to the SACN report and provide evidence and advice that the Government can use to develop a strategy for reducing sugar consumption.
We can expect some early action from this, with the planned launch of a digital marketing package to help families and individuals reduce the amount of sugar they consume. This will be followed in January 2015 by a focused Change4life campaign to change the sugar consuming behaviour of the nation.
According to some figures, the average Briton consumes an astounding 238 teaspoons of sugar a week – that’s more than one kilo. But if you asked the majority of the population how much sugar they ate the amount would be much lower: this is because so much of our western, processed diet contains hidden levels of the stuff.
And it’s not just in the obvious culprits, such as fizzy drinks and confectionery. Sugar is lurking in any number of seemingly innocuous everyday foodstuffs, such as canned tomatoes, salad dressings, peanut butter, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta – the list goes on. Recent recommendations even place alerts on smoothies and juices which, previously, had been accepted as legitimate contributors to a healthy ‘five a day’. This is due to the release of natural sugars during the juicing process which damage teeth and, because they are so highly concentrated, contribute to our high-calorie intakes.
Other plans outlined by PHE include reworking the five a day message to take into account new thinking on smoothies and juices; working with all partners to revise nutrition messaging on food packaging so that it reflects the SACN’s advice on carbohydrates and health; supporting the Department of Health in its work with the food and drink industry, and; more discussion around issues such as the advertising of food to children, the role of the food industry, food procurement across the public sector, education and training, and taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks.