Hit or Miss? Health experts launch hard-hitting campaign to cut the amount of sugar in food and soft drinks

The striking claim that "sugar is the new tobacco" helped new pressure group Action on Sugar grab headlines this month.

Stephen Webb: "Calling sugar 'the new tobacco' certainly grabbed headlines."
Stephen Webb: "Calling sugar 'the new tobacco' certainly grabbed headlines."

The health experts behind the group, which is chaired by professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Graham MacGregor, blame the substance for an obesity and diabetes crisis in the UK. They want the food and soft drinks industries to commit to reducing the amount of added sugar in their products by between 20 per cent and 30 per cent, citing the success of a similar initiative on salt.

How I see it

Stephen Webb, director, London Communications Agency

Action on Sugar chose the perfect time to put its message across, with everyone feeling the effects of festive gluttony. There is real concern about the growing impact of obesity and diabetes on people’s long-term health and hard-pressed NHS budgets.

Calling sugar "the new tobacco" certainly grabbed headlines, but it may be an unpalatable message for some in the food and drinks industry.

Focusing on the manufacturers’ reduction in the amount of salt in products makes the campaign look achievable. In the same way as trans-fats were replaced with healthier alternatives in New York, it shows sectors can come together to improve the health of the people they serve.

Recent decisions on tobacco packaging and alcohol pricing show that Action for Sugar has its work ut out. The trick is how to sweeten its campaign pill so that the industry, politicians, campaigners and clinicians can find common ground.

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