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The Commons Health Committee has today (30 November) published its report on Childhood Obesity.  The report makes a number of recommendations to tackle this issue, including further restrictions on advertising to children, a reformulation programme for sugar and the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks. 

In July 2015, The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published new recommendations on carbohydrates. This recommended that free sugars[1] should make up no more than 5% of our total dietary intake for those aged 2 years and over.  It also advised that there should be a reduction in the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

This guideline updates and reduces the existing Government recommendations which in 1991 set a recommendation that non-milk extrinsic sugars[2] should make up no more than 10% of our total dietary intake. 

However, UK sugar intakes are well above the recommended dietary levels. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that in the 2008-2012 period, amongst school aged children and teenagers free sugars made up between 14.7% and 15.6% of energy intake, and amongst adults 12.1% of energy intake.[3]

Sugar and Health

Consuming too much sugar and too many foods and drinks high in sugar can lead to weight gain, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. It is also linked to tooth decay. In 2012, almost 25% of adults in England were obese and a further 37% were overweight. In children, the situation is particularly worrying with almost 10% of 4 to 5 year olds and 19% of 10 to 11 year olds being obese. An additional 13% and 14% of 4 to 5 year olds and 10 to 11 year olds respectively are overweight. In 2013, one-third of five year olds and almost half of eight year olds had decay in their milk teeth, with tooth decay also found in 34% and 46% of 12 and 15 year olds respectively. Obesity and its consequences alone cost the NHS £5.1bn per year.

Both excess weight and tooth decay are associated with deprivation in England.   For example, children living in the most deprived communities are twice as likely to be obese or overweight as those in the least deprived for both age groups considered (reception and year 6).

Public Health England, Sugar Reduction: The evidence for action, October 2015

This debate pack is prepared for a debate that has been tabled by the Commons Petitions Select Committee after consideration of an e-petition on a tax for sugary drinks. This e-petition has gathered over 150,000 signatures and calls for a tax on sugar sweetened drinks to fund preventative strategies for childhood obesity and diet related disease. 

The introduction of a tax on sugar products has been the subject of some interest recently, it has support from medical organisations such as the Faculty of Public Health and the British Medical Association.

Public Health England (PHE) has recently published its guidance on sugar reduction, this contains a number of recommendations, including the introduction of a tax on high sugar products. PHE emphasise that no single action will be effective in reducing sugar intake.  The implementation of a broad range of measures would be likely to achieve a reduction in sugar intake.  These include reducing the impact of influencers that may increase consumption, reformulation to reduce the content of sugar in products, and supporting healthy choice through education and increased awareness.

The Government have stated that they have no plans to introduce a tax on sugar products but it is considering the evidence and advice from the PHE report as it develops a new childhood obesity strategy that will be published in early 2016.

The May 2015 POSTnote Sugar and Health provides a good background on sugar, its health effects and policy options.  This is included at the back of this debate pack. 

This briefing will include information on recent developments in this area, the recommendations from SACN and the recent Public Health England report. It will provide some background on current Government policy in promoting healthy diets and tackling obesity, and will discuss recent calls for the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks. 

[1]     Free Sugars is a term used by the World Health Organisation to describe “all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices.”

[2]     Non-Milk Extrinsic Sugars (NMES) are all extrinsic sugars not from milk.

[3]     PHE, New National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows UK population is eating too much sugar, saturated fat and salt, May 2014


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