The Dentist Magazine.

Sugar targets: BDA and the Oral Health Foundation call for government intervention

Published: 24/05/2018

The British Dental Association (BDA) and Oral Health Foundation have both expressed concern as a new report shows insufficient progress is being made on sugar reduction targets. Both organisations are warning that the pace and scope of reform needs to be increased significantly for the benefit of the population's oral and general health.

The new sugar reduction data, released on May 22, shows that voluntary action by companies remains slow and even non-existent in places, with an average of just a two per cent reduction across eight categories of retailer and branded foods.   

In 2016 Public Health England challenged food sectors to reduce sugar by 20 per cent by 2020. The report says reduction targets are encouraging some food manufacturers to reduce sugar content in five out of eight food categories, with reductions of 1-6 per cent reported in the paper for products with voluntary reduction targets.

However, soft drinks included in the Soft Drinks Industry levy saw reductions of 11 per cent, proving the power of hard policies over voluntary action.

The BDA has been a leading advocate for the tax. It has called for an expansion to cover sugar sweetened milk, sports and energy drinks, while also seeking sweeping changes to food labelling and branding alongside an end to in-store promotions on unhealthy food and drinks and predatory marketing of high sugar products to children.  

Mick Armstrong, chair of the BDA, said, “Rotten teeth remain the number one reason for hospital admissions among children, so any progress on sugar reduction is welcome news. But this is far from mission accomplished.

“The report shows that the food industry is far more willing to respond to sticks than carrots. We need a tough line on reformulation, but also decisive action on advertising to children and buy-one-get-one-free promotions in shops, which evidence shows have a huge impact on purchasing decisions.

“The NHS needn’t be spending hundreds of millions treating preventable diseases like obesity and tooth decay. Government now needs to go faster and further to make sugar the new tobacco.”

The Oral Health Foundation believes much more should be done to reduce the sugar content of foods in the UK, particularly those aimed at children, in order to have a positive impact on the nation’s oral and general health.

Speaking about the possibility of further government intervention driving change in the food and drink industry, Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said, “The recent introduction of the sugar levy in Britain shows that government regulation works, as it has drastically sped up product reformulation – a measure that will have a positive impact on sugar consumption and oral health.

“Food manufactures have been given the opportunity to take responsibility for the impact of sugar in their products voluntarily, but if they do not do so, we believe that increased government regulation will be needed.

“Excessive and frequent sugar consumption is especially damaging to the UK’s oral health. It is a key reason why a child is treated in hospital every ten minutes for tooth decay - which is entirely avoidable.

“In other areas of the world where a sugar levy has been introduced, we have seen it be highly successful in reducing sugar consumption as well as improving the health of the population.

“We firmly believe that if the sugar levy in the UK was extended to other food categories, it would inevitably lead to better oral health, as well as having a greater impact on other aspects of health and wellbeing.”

The information from PHE, which has been put into the public domain, shows there has been no progress in sugar reduction in biscuits and confectionery, while sugar levels associated with puddings have actually increased.

Key statistics show that of the top 20 food brands:

  • 33 per cent showed a decrease in the sugar content 

  • 56 per cent showed no change in the sugar content

  • 12 per cent showed an increase in the sugar content