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Response to AoMRC Report and Media Activities

February 2013

Sugar Nutrition UK welcomes the opportunity to respond to the AoMRC Report on Childhood Obesity and their media activities.

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February 2013

Response to Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

 

Sugar Nutrition UK values the opportunity to address some of the statements made within the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) report and in the media interviews they have provided.

No evidence taxation improves health, and it could have negative consequences.

There is a lack of evidence to support the Academies call for adding an additional 20% tax to soft drinks, and therefore applying a tax that would increase the cost of a family’s grocery shop to see what/if any affect this would have is totally inappropriate.

To date there is little evidence on how food taxes affect what and how much people eat or if they have any impact on health.  The research that is available predominately comes from mathematical modelling work using purchase data. This does not account for how people behave in the real world or take into account food waste or food swaps etc. Interestingly the report highlights that the Danish introduced a fat tax and were to extend this to sugar, however they fail to mention that the Danish Government scrapped this in November, and stated  that ‘The suggestion to tax food for public health reasons are misguided at best, and counter-productive at worst’.

The AoMRC have stated in interviews that the money raised from a soft drinks tax could be used to subsidise fruit and vegetables. However in their own report they highlight the need for more research on this before comment can be made on its effectiveness. A review published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation ‘found no direct scientific evidence of a causal relationship between policy-related economic instruments and food consumption’ and stated it was therefore insufficient evidence or preparation to support a food tax.  Analysis by British researchers also indicates that not only does a food tax penalise those on lower incomes more, as they have to spend a higher proportion of their income on groceries, it could increase the wealth-health gap, resulting in detrimental unintended consequences. Research also suggests that selective food taxes can also change purchasing towards higher calorie options and therefore increase calorie intake.

Sugar is not harmful or toxic.

Claiming that sugar, particularly in its liquid form is toxic and harmful, is scare-mongering and not consistent with the scientific evidence. We are therefore disappointed that in interviews on the report, unsubstantiated claims are being made to mislead the public.

The comments made in interviews contradict the conclusions of all the Major Expert Committees who have reviewed the science and concluded that there is no evidence of any harm attributed to current sugar consumption levels. Therefore to go against the evidence and say that sugar is harmful and toxic is irresponsible and misleading.

A professor at the University of Lausanne sums it up in a research paper; rather than concentrating on demonising an individual ingredient, efforts should be focused on known health benefits. ‘Public health is almost certainly to benefit more from policies that are aimed at promoting what is known to be good than from policies that are prohibiting what is not (yet) known to be bad’.

Obesity is multifactorial, therefore it is disappointing that this report did not take the opportunity to focus on how industry and health professionals can work together, along with other professions to encourage and help individuals to have healthy, balanced and active lifestyles, whilst still acknowledging an individual’s right to freedom of choice.

On average, soft drinks (not including low-calorie) account for 4% of a child’s and 2% of an adult’s calorie intake. Alcohol accounts for 7% of adult’s calorie intake.

In the last decade alone, the average intake of sugars in the UK has declined by 6%, whilst at the same time the proportion of the population in England who are obese has increased by 5% and the percentage being diagnosed by a doctor with Diabetes has more than doubled.

References 

  1. Tiffin R, Salois M. (2012) Inequalities in diet and nutrition. Proc Nut Soc. 71: 105-111.
  2. Goodman C, Anise A (2006). What is known about the effectiveness of economic instruments to reduce consumption of foods high in saturated fats and other energy-dense foods for preventing and treating obesity? Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe
  3. Tappy L, Mittendorfer B. Fructose toxicity: is the science ready for public health actions? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2012;15(4):357-61. Henderson L, Gregory J, Irving K & Swan G (2003) The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults Aged 19 to 64 Years. vol. 2: Energy, Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat and Alcohol Intake. HMSO, London.
  4. Department of Health (2012) National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline results from Years 1, 2 and 3 (combined) of the rolling programme 2008 – 2011
  5. NHS Information Centre for health and social care (2011) Health Survey for England 2010 – Trend Tables.
  6. European Food Safety Authority (2010) Scientific Opinion on dietary reference values for carbohydrates and dietary fibre. The EFSA Journal 2010 8(3): 1462
  7. World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (2003) Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series 916. WHO Geneva.
  8. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2002) Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) The National Academies Press, Washington
  9. Food and Agriculture Organization (1998) Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. Carbohydrates in Human Nutrition. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No 66
  10. Department of Health (1989) Dietary Sugars and Human Disease. Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Report on Health and Social Subjects No 37. HMSO, London.

 

For more information and media requests please email media@sugarnutrition.org.uk

Sugar Nutrition UK is an association principally funded by UK sugar manufacturers and is involved in promoting nutrition research and raising awareness among academics, health professionals, the media and the public about sugars and their role in health.

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