Letters Sugar and portion reduction by food industry

Voluntary targets for food companies will not end childhood obesity

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6068 (Published 16 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6068
  1. Nick Spencer, emeritus professor of child health1,
  2. Luis Rajmil, senior researcher2
  1. 1Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 9JD, UK
  2. 2Hospital del Mar Institute of Biomedical Research, Barcelona, Spain
  1. n.j.spencer{at}warwick.ac.uk

The government has asked the food industry to cut sugar by 20% and to reduce portions in England.1 The voluntary measures proposed have been criticised by several organisations on the grounds that compulsory and measured targets for the reduction of sugar and other nutrients are needed across the whole of the food and drink industry.2 3

These criticisms could be extended to the approach proposed by the World Health Organization for ending childhood obesity. Engaging the food industry on a voluntary basis has been tried in the UK4 and the USA5 without success, because companies either fail to adhere to the agreement or are not party to it. Proposals that depend on voluntary cooperation fail to take into account the role of multinational food companies in the generation of an obesogenic environment. The proposals should approach how and to what extent these companies should be involved in the interventions to reduce obesity.

One way that multinational food companies promote obesity is by using the “heroes” of TV series to advertise unhealthy foods to make them more attractive to children.6 Increased control and legislation—both locally and internationally—is needed to ensure compliance with measures to effectively avoid exposure of children to obesogenic advertisements.

Obesity is universally recognised as a threat to health in childhood, but experience indicates that, unless governments enact legislation rather than relying on voluntary agreements with the food industry, consumption of obesogenic products, especially by children, will not be significantly reduced.



View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription