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NHS boss urges retailers to hike prices for 'health-destroying' sugar products

Published 17/07/2015

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends that free sugars account for no more than 5% of daily energy intake
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends that free sugars account for no more than 5% of daily energy intake

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has suggested retailers raise the price of sugary drinks and "other nutritionally empty, health-destroying, entirely discretionary purchases" as new guidelines were announced that halve the recommended daily amount of sugar that should be consumed.

Mr Stevens said a "win-win" situation could see food and drink companies use the extra money to fund the National Living Wage for workers, "taking pounds off our children's waistlines, while putting pound notes into the pockets of low wage employees".

He made the comments after a report by the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN) was released advising the Government to halve the current recommendations for free sugars from 10% of daily energy intake to just 5%.

This would mean that the average can of fizzy drink now contains more than the recommended daily amount of sugar for children under 11, while cans containing more sugar than this would take adults over their limit.

The recommendations on free sugars - those that are added to food by manufacturers or are naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices - have been released in a bid to tackle the growing obesity and diabetes crises, estimated to cost the NHS a combined £15 billion a year.

They are also hoped to reduce tooth decay - the number one cause of hospital admissions among children.

The guidelines say the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fizzy drinks, soft drinks and squash, should be minimised by both children and adults in particular because of their links to weight gain and the increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Mr Stevens said: "The evidence is piling up that added sugar and excess calories are causing obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

"Food retailers are now being asked to pay a National Living Wage to their workers, so why don't they partly fund it by higher prices for sugary fizzy drinks and other nutritionally empty, health-destroying, entirely discretionary purchases.

"This could be imaginative and genuine win-win - taking pounds off our children's waistlines, while putting pound notes into the pockets of low wage employees."

The Government said it is accepting the recommendations and will be using them to develop its forthcoming national strategy on childhood obesity, due out later this year.

But it has said it will not be introducing a sugar tax, which has been suggested by many, with doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA) becoming the latest to join the call this week.

The report from SACN - an independent body of expert nutritionists which advises Government on matters relating to diet, nutrition and health - also advised that children and adults should increase the amount of fibre in their diet by eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods.

The report maintains the current recommendation that starchy carbohydrates - particularly wholegrain - should form 50% of daily calorie intake.

Professor Ian Macdonald, chairman of the SACN carbohydrates and health working group, said: "The evidence is stark - too much sugar is harmful to health and we all need to cut back.

"The clear and consistent link between a high-sugar diet and conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes is the wake-up call we need to rethink our diet.

"Cut down on sugars, increase fibre and we'll all have a better chance of living longer, healthier lives."

The Food and Drink Federation described the goals set out in the report as "stretching".

Director general Ian Wright said: "To meet the stretching dietary goals that SACN recommends will mean changes to the way people eat.

"We hope SACN's key recommendations will be translated into meaningful and practical diet and lifestyle messages which are consistently used by everyone with a voice in the health debate."

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, also said more needs to be done to help consumers work out how to make a healthier choice.

"Manufacturers must follow the example of retailers by introducing traffic light labelling, so it's obvious how much sugar products contain especially those aimed at children," he said.

"Retailers can also do more by ensuring they act responsibly when promoting items that are high in sugar."

The SACN report itself acknowledges that the guidelines will be "challenging to achieve" and the type of diet it is proposing "is not representative of the average diet eaten in the UK".

It says it will require a "substantial change in dietary habits for most people and considerable support and practical advice from multiple stakeholders".

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