A hundred sugar deaths a day in the UK

A documentary film ‘FED UP’, released this week in the US, shows how the food industry’s push on sugar, and our Government’s complacency, has allowed sugar-related deaths, linked to diabetes and obesity, to hit epic proportions.

Take a look at this official trailer as a taster of the movie the sugar industry doesn’t want you to see.

In the UK the number of preventable deaths is estimated at 100 a day. Preventable diabetes related deaths alone stand at 461 a week, according to Diabetes UK. To put this into context, the deaths caused by our addiction to sugar and junk food in a decade exceeds the total deaths in World War 2.

UK Government stands rightly accused of complacency. The now redundant Food Standards Agency tackled salt and the ‘five a day’ campaign for fruit and vegetables but steered clear away from the big problem – sugar. The sugar lobby was just too powerful.

In March the World Health Organisation came out with a recommendation of not more than 5% of calories from sugar – roughly a teaspoon a day. But UK Government group SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) is dragging their feet and wants to make their own mind up. They have promised a report on sugar and carbohydrates for consultation in the summer. The current SACN recommendation is that sugar should make up no more than 10% of daily calorie intake but little is done to enforce it.

But SACN’s committee of experts is rife with significant conflicts of interest. The main player is Professor Ian Macdonald who receives funding from Mars, Unilever and Coca Cola. Other conflicts of interest on board include Professor Julie Lovegrove (GSK; Unilever: Sugar Nutrition UK), Professor Ian Johnstone (Barry Callebaut -world’s largest chocolate manufacturer).

In the minutes from SACN one reason given to allow Professor Ian Macdonald to stay on board with his Coca Cola funding was that it ‘part funded a research assistant in his team’. MacDonald, who sits on the Coca Cola European Scientific Advisory Council and the Mars Scientific Advisory Council, said he believed it was important to have a dialogue with industry. Yet, he said he never discussed any aspect of his government work on sugar with Coca-Cola and Mars.

But, regardless of the official sugar percentage adopted by the UK government, and putting aside the obvious conflicts of interests in SACN and other influencers of policy, what is going to be done about the nation’s addiction to sugar? That’s the question.

Last week a leaked report from Ed Milliband’s Labour strategy team revealed tough measures to get Britain healthy, covering diet, exercise, drinking and smoking. He proposed, for example, a ban on selling confectionary by tills in supermarkets and much stronger food labelling to dis-incentivise sugar and junk food. However, such obviously needed steps earned him the ‘Red Ed’ title in the Daily Mail. Conversely, in many states of the US, sugary drinks are taxed to make them less attractive. A sugar tax seems to be an obvious next step.

Given the vast healthcare costs associated with sugar-related diseases, a sugar tax, which I first proposed more than a decade ago, would provide some money to offset the vast disease costs of sugar, which could be spent on prevention and education strategies, and to pay government nutrition advisors well enough that they don’t need to be paid by Coca Cola.

The fact is that the sugar industry has created a nation of sugar addicts – and we pay for it through our ever-increasing tax-funded NHS. Anyone with any nutritional knowledge knows that the way out of obesity and diabetes and all other sugar-related problems is to eat a low glycemic load (GL) diet. This is what the newly formed Public Health England (PHE) charged with a ‘mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health’ should be focussing on.

If you are interested in reading more about what I have been saying about sugar click here.