ACTION STATIONS: Leading British nutrition scientists acknowledge NOW is time to take action on sugar

Embargoed until 11.30am GMT  - 26th June 2014

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• Government's advisory committee FINALLY aligns with the draft World Health Organisation’s advice to limit free  sugars to around 5% of energy intake
• Jeremy Hunt needs to (a) set sugar targets across the broad to reduce the huge amounts of free sugars in processed food and soft drinks (b) return nutrition to an independent body such as the Food Standards Agency
• The UK can NOW lead the world in reducing both the obesity and type ll diabetes crisis

After more than 6 years of delay, the Government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has finally issued their draft report on carbohydrates, including sugars in people's diets [1].  The report recommends that around 5% of people’s daily energy, down from the previous recommendation of 10%, can come from free sugars (approx. 25g for women and 35g for men per day) [1].  A further document from Public Health England has been released, highlighting the options to help the nation to reduce its sugar intake [2].

This is great news as according to campaign group Action on Sugar, as there is absolutely NO nutritional requirement for free sugars in our diets.

Jeremy Hunt MP must heed this report; otherwise the NHS will be overwhelmed by more and more people becoming obese and developing type II diabetes.  At the same time, it is a major opportunity to reduce tooth decay, which consumes around 6–10% of total health costs in industrialised countries [3].

Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions in the UK. A quarter of all adults and a fifth of children are classified as obese, and one third of UK adults have pre-diabetes [4-5].  A reduction in free sugars to around 5% would reduce calorie intake in the UK population and would prevent people from becoming obese and developing obesity-related diseases including [6]: type II diabetes, common cancers, heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, a recent study shows a clear causative relationship between sugar intake and tooth decay down to a sugar intake of less than 3% of calorie intakes [7].

The leading public health bodies all agree, and recognise the damage to health caused by free sugars. Thus the World Health Organisation, the UK Faculty of Public Health and Action on Sugar have all recommended reducing free sugars from the current 10% to less than 5% energy in adults and children [7-9].  This is based both on scientific evidence and on the urgent need for a public health intervention on sugar to tackle the obesity crisis.  Currently, all age groups are consuming far more sugar than is recommended: adults are consuming 21% (12.1%) more, children 47% (14.7%) more, and teenagers 56% (15.6%) more [10].

Chairman of Action on Sugar Professor Graham MacGregor commented: “We are currently consuming far above the current recommendations of 10%, so it is fantastic that this strong recommendation has been put forward and shows the urgency of acting now. Action on Sugar has recently provided Jeremy Hunt MP with a simple seven-step programme to tackle childhood obesity [11], he must start by setting targets for reducing sugar in soft drinks this summer and move responsibility for nutrition to an independent body such as the Food Standards Agency so that the soft drinks and food industry are given a level-playing field, with the threat of regulation to ensure the whole of the food industry comply. Before another million British kids become obese.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist and Science Director of Action on Sugar says: “These draft recommendations are all well and good but they need to be translated into something meaningful for the consumer.  Current labelling, by not declaring free sugars, misleads consumers into thinking it may be ok to consume a staggering 22 teaspoons of sugar as part of their guideline daily amount, is a disgrace. The dietary advice on sugar is in need of emergency surgery to improve worsening rates of type ll diabetes and obesity.”

Professor Simon Capewell commented: "Parents and children are currently drowning in a world full of sugary drinks, cheap junk food and aggressive marketing targeting children.  Around the world there are examples where regulations and duties work to reduce free sugars intake. All we need now is the UK government to show they are genuinely committed to promoting the public's health, rather than supporting industry profits."

Dr John Middleton, Vice President for Policy, Faculty of Public Health comments: "Individuals need to play their part, but we need government to do what only it can and take steps like trialling a duty on sugary drinks that have no nutritional value. The public health community is united behind this, and the weight of scientific evidence supports a reduction of the guideline for sugar to be less than 5% of energy intake.”

"That's why we welcome this announcement today, because it marks a historical leap forward in making progress in the battle against obesity. FPH and its members will do all they can to support it."

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, commented:  “The new school food standards, published earlier this month, include specific measures to reduce the amount of sugar children consume at school.  Now the government needs to show the same leadership beyond the school gate. They should start by closing the loopholes that allow companies to promote their sugary products to children online, on TV, and at store checkouts; and by implementing the other recommendations of Action on Sugar’s childhood obesity action plan. The evidence is also clear about the benefits of introducing a sugary drinks duty, with revenue going into a ‘Children’s Future Fund’ to pay for programmes to improve children’s health and protect the environment they grow up in.”


Notes to Editor
For more information contact:
● National PR - David Clarke: 07773 225516
● Campaign Director – Katharine Jenner 020 7 882 6018/  07740 553298

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Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods. Action on Sugar is supported by 21 expert advisors.


1. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of independent experts that advises the Government on nutrition issues, will publish its draft Carbohydrates and Health report on it’s website on 26 June 2014 for a nine week public consultation which will end on 1 September 2014. Following the consultation, the committee will carefully consider the responses before finalising the report and its recommendations. SACN is consulting on the scientific content of the report only; policy implications are not within its remit. It is anticipated that a final report will be published in early 2015. Upon receipt of SACN’s final advice, PHE will consider whether its recommendations on carbohydrate, sugar and fibre require updating.

2. Public Health England:
PHE will publish a paper on 26 June 2014 on their plans to help the nation to reduce its sugar intake. This will not contain new recommendations as we are unable to fully consider the SACN report until it is finalised.

3. Beaglehole R, Benzian H, Crail J et al. (2009) The Oral Health Atlas: Mapping a Neglected Global Health Issue. Brighton: Myriad Editions.

4. A quarter of all adults and a fifth of children are classified as obese

5. One third of UK adults have pre-diabetes 

6. Department of Health, 2011. Healthy lives, healthy people

7. Sheiham A, James WP. A new understanding of the relationship between sugars, dental caries and fluoride use: implications for limits on sugars consumption. Public health nutrition 2014:1-9.

8. The current UK dietary recommendation is that sugar should make up no more than 10% of daily calorie intake (this includes added sugar and free sugars in fruit juices and honey). 

9. WHO. WHO opens public consultation on draft sugars guideline. 2014. 

10. National Diet and Nutrition Survey - The latest survey data from 2008 to 2012 assesses the food consumption and nutrient intake of the UK

11. Childhood obesity action plan
The plan details the following key activations to change the food environment, responsible for the obesity epidemic:

1. Reduce free sugars by 40% by 2020 by reformulating (similar to the CASH salt reduction programme)
2. Cease all forms of targeted marketing of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods and drinks to children
3. Disassociate physical activity with obesity via banning junk food sports sponsorships
4. Reduce fat in ultra-processed foods, particularly saturated fat – 15% reduction by 2020
5. Limit the availability of ultra-processed foods and sweetened soft drinks as well as reducing portion size
6. Incentivise healthier food and discourage drinking of soft drinks by planning to introduce a sugar duty
7. Remove responsibility for nutrition from the Department of Health and return it back to an independent agency