18 Aug 2016 --- The long awaited UK childhood obesity plan has been met by much criticism, with scientific and official bodies expressing various doubts about the 4-year strategy. The official government childhood obesity plan includes many voluntary targets, including cutting sugar in children's food and drink by 20% over the next 4 years.
It also focuses on the need for primary school children to exercise for an hour a day, with extra money from the future sugar tax to fund exercise programs in schools.
However, reactions to the strategy have been largely negative, with official bodies arguing that the plans outlined in the strategy aren’t enough to curb the current childhood obesity epidemic.
Kawther Hashem, Researcher at Action on Sugar, told NutritionInsight, “The Public Health England (PHE) and Action on Sugar have both shown clearly that reformulation of both sugar and fat is by far the most effective way of reducing calorie intake in the whole population.”
Hashem continued, adding: “Action on Sugar has asked for a 50% reduction in sugar and a 20% reduction in fat as it is easier and more effective to reduce fat as it contains x2.5 more calories compared to sugar. In spite of this compelling evidence, the plan only requires a 20% reduction by 2020 with no further plans for further reformulation and no mention extraordinarily of reformulation of sugar sweetened soft drinks – the main source of sugar in adolescents and children.”
Further criticism of the plan comes from the government only requiring voluntary cooperation from the food industry, with experts claiming stricter guidelines are needed.
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar and Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) said, "After the farce of the Responsibility Deal where Andrew Lansley made the food industry responsible for policing themselves, it is sad to see that this is just another imitation of the same Responsibility Deal take two. It is an insulting response to the UK crisis in obesity type 2 diabetes both in children and adults. This will bankrupt the NHS unless something radical is done.”
While the new strategy focuses on reducing the amount of sugar in foods, there is also speculation about how food companies will measure the amount of added and natural sugar contained in their products.
Tom Chess, Chief Scientist of Sugarwise UK and Cambridge University Biochemist said: "While having measures in place to encourage reduction of added sugars in food and drink should be commended, it is technically very challenging to differentiate between the amount of sugar that has been added to food and the amount that is naturally occurring."
Shad Hoshyar, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Sugarwise, explained the need for an independent body to verify sugar claims in food produce, saying: "While the obesity strategy is likely to propose reductions, who will measure this, in turn ensuring that manufacturers with genuinely lower sugar products are fairly treated?"
Sugarwise, who have developed a test to determine the forms of sugars found in foods, think consumers should not rely on manufacturers to certify their own claims. Chess added, "As far as I am aware the Sugarwise test is the only means of independently assessing manufacturer claims on added sugar - the only such method in the world."
However, the strategy’s focus on sugar alone has also been criticized. The Food and Drink Federation say that focusing on reducing the singular nutrient will be difficult for the food industry to achieve.
They stated: “The target set for sugars reduction in the Plan is flawed. It focuses too strongly on the role of this one nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient. Moreover the target is unlikely to be technically practical across all the selected food categories. Reformulation is difficult and costly: there are different challenges for each product; recipe change can only proceed at a pace dictated by consumers. We will of course do everything we can in the next six months to work towards a practicable reformulation solution while continuing to urge the Government to adopt a 'whole diet' approach.”
by Hannah Gardiner
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