Sugar in food: critics urge tougher regulation as industry fails to meet reduction targetBMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2280 (Published 22 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2280
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This account about Public Health England’s (PHE) sugar reduction programme misleads readers. PHE did not “fail”.
Measuring what food people buy is difficult, analysing the data arduous. PHE honestly acknowledged, right up front, that the figures on sugar reductions in foods that it published were based on purchasing surveys conducted in August-September 2017, eight-to-nine months before the report appeared.
Reformulation takes time. Even with soft drinks, the easiest products for sugar reductions, many companies only completed work just before the Soft Drinks Industry Levy came into force last month. With foods, reformulation is technically more difficult.
Further, as demonstrated in our recent article for BMJ Opinion (https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2018/05/14/), the UK's complex distribution system means that many products, successfully reformulated, are not yet in shops. They certainly were not available for purchase nine months ago.
IF we are able to measure the extent of sugar reduction up-to-the-minute, in May 2018, the figure for foods would certainly be much larger than 2%, for drinks much larger than 11%. In the real world, today, the sugar reduction programme is, in all probability, a success.
But your story carries a warning for PHE. Unless it changes or supplements its data sources, unless it shortens or changes its data analysis, then its next report, early in 2019, will generate more stories about slow progress. PHE will again be accused of “failing”. And that would be in no one’s interest, least of all PHE’s.
Emeritus Professor of Nutrition Policy
London Metropolitan University
28 St Paul Street
London N1 7AB
Competing interests: No competing interests