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Government accused on sugar report

Health campaigners have accused the Government of pushing back a report on how to get the nation to eat less sugar.

A final report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is due to be published on Friday, and will recommend the amount of added sugar in people's diets be slashed by half.

But a review by Public Health England (PHE) on how these measures could be implemented by the public is not expected until the end of the summer.

A spokesman denied claims it had been put back, but campaigners say the delay between the two reports will mean a vital opportunity to show how to introduce a healthier diet is lost as the issue will be forgotten by the time the PHE paper is published.

A spokesman for the National Obesity Forum said: "It's one thing saying you reduce sugar content by 50%, but the big question is how on earth do you get this across to the general public?"

He said it indicated that promises made by the Government to tackle childhood obesity are "essentially being thrown on the scrapheap".

The PHE's evidence review will look at ways to encourage people to cut down their sugar consumption, such as marketing, promotions and fiscal measures.

The SACN report, which was published in draft form in June last year, will advise a reduction in sugar from the current recommendation of 10% of dietary energy intake to 5%, a move which has already been advocated by the World Health Organisation.

This is the equivalent of 25 grams of sugar for women and 35 grams, or seven to eight teaspoonfuls, for men.

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of Children's Food Campaign, said the Government has "refused to listen to the mass of evidence" supporting a sugary drinks duty and is also "ignoring repeated calls by doctors, dentists and other public health experts to close loopholes in the rules that currently allow the marketing of unhealthy food to children".

"There is only so long the Government can stick its fingers in its ears and ignore the scale of the problem," he added.

"For the sake of the nation's health and the NHS's budgets, a different approach, with robust measures and regulation, is needed."

A PHE spokesman said: "We are finalising our evidence package and will send it to the Government shortly. We will publish it later in the summer."

Many health campaigners want to see a tax on sugar, with doctors' leaders becoming the latest group to join the call yesterday.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said a 20% levy on sugary drinks would be a "useful first step" towards the long-term goal of taxing a wide range of products in the fight to reduce obesity in the UK.

It suggests that imposing a minimum 20% tax on all non-alcoholic water based beverages with added sugar, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drink, sports drinks and fruit-juice concentrates, could subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables.

Its report, Food For Thought, warned that poor diet costs the NHS around £6 billion a year, and suggests imposing a minimum 20% tax on all non-alcoholic water based beverages with added sugar, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drink, sports drinks and fruit-juice concentrates, which it said could subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables.

Another recent report by the Food Research Collaboration (FRC), chaired by Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, accused the Government of living in a ''fantasy world'' and said it should consider taxing unhealthy products.

It said academic research found the healthiest diets cost double the price of the least healthy ones, and while the price of unhealthy foods has been shown to be decreasing over time, the gap between the price of healthy and unhealthy foods is widening.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously said he would not rule out legislation but said "more important" measures could be taken such as getting supermarkets to present fruit and vegetables as they do junk food.

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