21 Dec 2018 Food Active responds to the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report
Today Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, published her annual report for 2018 recommending a series of measures to help support people make healthier choices.
We are pleased to see a number of recommendations made today in the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report for 2018, specifically those concerning fiscal measures to reduce consumption of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). These include:
Recommendation 5: The Soft Drinks Industry Levy and milk-based drinks
In April 2018, we were delighted to see the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) enter into UK law following a 2-year implementation period. Food Active has campaigned for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) for a number of years, launching the Give Up Loving Pop campaign in 2015 to help raise awareness of the health harms of excessive consumption of SSBs. We already know that over 50% of manufacturers have cut the sugar content of their drinks and three of the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets in UK Tesco, Asda and Morrisons as well as Co-op have reduced the amount of sugar in all their own-label drinks to fall below the thresholds[i].
However, it is important to note that milk and fruit-based soft drinks were excluded from the levy owing to the nutritive contribution to Vitamin C and Calcium intake in children, albeit that some of these drink varieties contain the most sugar. For example, a 500ml bottle of ‘Yop Strawberry’ Milkshake contains 55g per serving and 11g per 100ml – the equivalent of a can of Monster Energy Drink, and more than popular soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Red Bull and Fanta. In addition, this exceeds the reference intake of free sugars for all population groups. Public Health England (PHE) has recognised this problem, and earlier this year took to proactive step of including milk-based and fruit-based drinks in the sugar reduction programme, providing targets of 20% and 5% sugar reduction by 2021 respectively[ii]. Whilst calcium is an important nutrient, particularly for children and young people, the consumption of such large quantities of sugar is detrimental to oral health and maintenance of healthy weight, and therefore we are supportive of the recommendation made by the CMO to extend the SDIL to milk-based drinks.
We also echo the CMO’s concerns on added sugar contained within commercial infant and baby foods. By the age of five, almost one third (31%) of children in England have experience of dental decay and more than one fifth (22.6%) are overweight or obese [iii] [iv] – and the consumption of food and drink high in free sugars is a contributing factor to these statistics. Research has shown over half of fruit drinks marketed specifically as ‘baby drinks’ to our youngest children contained at least a child’s daily maximum recommended intake of 30g[v]. In 2018, Food Active launched a campaign specifically promoting healthier drink choices in the under-fives to combat this growing issue, ‘Kind to Teeth’, citing water and plain milk as the most suitable sources of hydration for young children.
Recommendation 6: Fiscal measures on foods high in fat, sugar and salt
We have already seen the positive impact that the SDIL has had on promoting industry to start reformulating their products to contain less sugar. This can be juxtaposed with the extremely limited outcomes from the Public Health Responsibility Deal, highlighting that voluntary measures have low impact on overall levels of public health nutrition and our ability to reduce health inequalities[vi]. Therefore, fiscal measures recommended by the CMO, such as an increase in taxation on foods high in salt and sugar, and subsidies for fruit and vegetables, are to be welcomed as an effective, population level intervention to address rates of overweight and obesity across the life course.
Whilst Price and value are clearly important drivers of consumer purchasing habits, another key measure to further change consumer decisions is to address the promotional bias towards HFSS food and drink when compared to healthier food and drink. Research has shown that a significant proportion of HFSS food and drink are subject to promotional activity (through both price and placement) when compared to healthier options[vii]. We therefore look forward to the UK Government’s upcoming consultation looking at restrictions on both price and placement promotions of HFSS products, which may start to rebalance the availability of food and drink items in line with current healthy eating recommendations.
[i] HM Treasury (2018) Soft Drinks Industry comes into effect [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/soft-drinks-industry-levy-comes-into-effect [Accessed: 20th December 2018]
[ii] Public Health England (2018) Sugar reduction: fruit and milk based drinks. London: Crown Copyright.
[iii] Public Health England (2018) National Dental Epidemiological Survey for under fives. London: Crown Copyright.
[iv] Public Health England (2018) NCMP and Child Obesity Profiles: Fingertips [online] Available at: https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/national-child-measurement-programme [Accessed: 20th December 2018]
[v] Boulton J, Hashem K, Jenner K, Lloyd-Williams F, Bromley H and Capewell S (2016) How much sugar is hidden in drinks marketed to children? A survey of fruit juices, juice drinks and smoothies. Public Health Research. BMJ Journals.
[vi] Cécile Knai, Courtney Scott, Preethy D’Souza, Lesley James, Anushka Mehrotra, Mark Petticrew, Elizabeth Eastmure, Mary Alison Durand, Nicholas Mays; The Public Health Responsibility Deal: making the workplace healthier?, Journal of Public Health, Volume 39, Issue 2, 1 June 2017, Pages 373–386, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdw047
[vii] Economic and Social Research Council (2014) Evidence briefing: Food price promotions and public health [online] Available at: https://esrc.ukri.org/news-events-and-publications/evidence-briefings/food-price-promotions-and-public-health/