Last week, a post on this website about our sugar reduction and food reformulation programme (‘Why should Public Health England be allowed to stop us choosing between taste and fewer calories?’) made a couple of points on which we’d like to respond.
First, there’s no need to worry about this being a sinister plot to take out the flavour of the food you like eating. We’re working with the food and drink industry to reduce 20 per cent of the sugar children eat from common products by 2020 — it’s a gradual process. Your blueberry muffin won’t suddenly taste any different overnight, and you probably won’t notice when the sugar in it is reduced. Most won’t know, but in recent years we’ve halved the salt in baked beans and there’s 40 per cent less of it in bread. Hardly anyone noticed the difference and the last I checked beans on toast was still pretty popular.
Also, this programme is not about children’s food, but the food children eat. There’s a fundamental difference. Some may associate biscuits more with pensioners, but biscuits actually provide eight per cent of the sugar in an average four- to 10-year-old’s diet, but six per cent for over-65s. Everyone eats biscuits.
We’re not trying to take over the food chain, nor stop people eating what they like. However, almost two thirds of adults are overweight or obese, as is one in three children leaving primary school. You can argue that adults know the consequences of carrying extra pounds, but ultimately choose to eat what they want. That may be true, but I don’t think a child starts primary school and thinks ‘you know what, when I leave I want to be the one who is overweight. I might suffer bullying, or low self-esteem, but I don’t care, that’s my choice’. No, society has created an environment where children eat too much sugar and as a result end up overweight.
We’re doing what we can to change that environment. So while debate rages about what is in the childhood obesity plan, we’re busy working with industry on doing something about it.
Dr Alison Tedstone is chief nutritionist at Public Health England