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The problem of excess sugar in drinks and processed foods

    The proposal to tax soft drinks doesn’t address the fundamental need to try and influence all food and drink manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar they add to their products.

    There has been a small amount of progress by drinks manufacturers to reduce sugars, but no perceptible change from confectionary or food manufacturers.

    An 800g packet of muesli giving the appearance of a healthy breakfast alternative has the equivalent of 72 teaspoonful’s’ of sugar in it. Furthermore, manufacturers of sauces recently advised people to not use their products more than once a week because of the high sugar and salt content.

    The NHS still advises people not to eat fat. There are plenty of articles that now recognise that fat doesn’t automatically cause high cholestorol and lead to heart disease. If one expects food manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar they add to processed foods then they will need to be able to add more fat, but good fat. So the NHS needs to reconsider their guidelines.

    How can the public be made more aware of the sugar content of products, that will influence their behaviour and how can food and drink producers be influenced to want to reduce the amount of sugar in their products?

    The current information on the back of all products does very little to influence consumer or manufacturer behaviour. Something must be on the front of the product and in an easily understood format. People understand tea spoons, so every product should show the number of spoonfuls of sugar within the packet they are buying. However food and drink manufacturers then might reduce the size of their packets so that they show less spoonfuls than a competitive product.

    The solution is to have a traffic light code for each different segment of the food industry: drinks, confectionary and processed foods. Within each segment one third of the products will have a red traffic light, one third yellow and one third green. Within each coloured disk will be the number of spoonfuls of sugar in the total packet, however the requirement to place yourself in the red, yellow of green segments will be based on the amount of sugars per 100g of the product.

    Manufacturers will be keen to be in the yellow or green disks and so will look at ways to reduce the sugar content of their products. Consumers will easily identify the sugar content from the coloured disk and the number of spoonfuls of sugar. The NHS will benefit hugely in the long term as sugar consumption starts to come down.

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