The War On Sugar - What's the Solution?

Public Health England, the government’s advisory group, released a childhood obesity report this week in which there were calls for David Cameron to impose a tax on sugary foods and drinks and especially a crackdown on marketing unhealthy products to children. The reason? High sugar food and drinks fuel the obesity crisis and cost the NHS £5.1 billion a year.

You’ve probably heard a lot about sugar recently, mainly as self-appointed king of the ‘less sugar brigade’ Jamie Oliver has decided to jump on the bandwagon and call for a sugar tax. With films like Fed Up and That Sugar Film coming out last year the focus is very much on obesity, and lack of knowledge on sugar is seen as the sole cause.


There were eight recommendations in the report:

-          Reduce price promotions in retail outlets and supermarkets

-          Reduce opportunities to market high-sugar food and drink across all media

-          Clearly define ‘high-sugar foods’

-          Implementation of a structured program to gradually reduce sugar in food and drink products

-          Implementation and monitoring of government buying standards for food and catering across the public sector including hospitals / leisure centres, etc.

-          Ensure training in diet and health is routinely delivered to those who have opportunities to influence food choices.

-          Continue to raise awareness of concerns around sugar levels to the general public



The above measures are fairly self-explanatory and it is clear that we need more public awareness regarding food and nutrition. However, I’m of the opinion that applying a tax is not the right way of getting there. The problem of this is that we are targeting the people who are most at risk of these illnesses - the least educated, least well-off people. Instead maybe we need to focus on preventative measures rather than reactive ones.

The general public is unfortunately terribly unaware regarding nutrition as a whole, and the mixed messages coming from supporters of various sides definitely don’t help. Nutrition discussions notoriously turn into slagging matches between supporters of whichever fad they are most behind. And the media don’t help.  For decades, television, newspapers, and radio have continuously bombarded us with contradictory statements – eggs are a great example – first they were good... Then they were bad… Now they are good again. There are too many large corporations with financial and commercial interests at heart pulling strings with the media, education and marketing throughout the world. Research can be (and is) manipulated in favourable ways for those funding the research. And regardless, people will buy what they want and like. Alcohol is fairly expensive, but no one has stopped drinking, have they?!

Some people have questioned why it has to be a tax imposed. Surely by subsidising ‘healthy’ food, people would eat less crap? Though this is a good idea, a big problem is that people aren’t just buying food for health. They’re buying based on stress, negative self-image, lack of time and what they think is best for them and their family at that particular moment.

The best weapon we have to fight the growing trend of obesity in the UK is something we bang on about all the time at The Active Lifestyle:


Our children are sent to school at the age of 5 to start their formal education which is theoretically designed to teach them the life skills they require.  When they leave secondary school and head to the world of work or to university, they should be educated to feed themselves and their families in a nutritious and healthy way. However, how much food and nutrition education do we provide our children?

Rather than applying a tax on food, which makes certain food less accessible to those most at risk, we need to provide our children with the basic knowledge they need to get through their lives.  Let’s teach them about food. What are sugars?  What affect does sugar have on the body?  What are other sources of sugar?


Once our children are educated to the point that they understand the basics of food, we can start to apply self-responsibility.  If you understand what sugar does to your body and why it increases your risk of diabetes, and what this affect will have on your body, you are far less likely to consume hordes of it. And if you do, you need to own up and be responsible for your own actions rather than placing the blame on advertising, media and major corporations.

One of the biggest factors with clients training is that they start to feed themselves better – this means that both physically and mentally they improve, many are astonished just how much better they feel after they have been eating healthily for a little while.

I understand that we are all busy people with busy lives. I get that you don’t want to spend any more time in the supermarket than you have to. I empathise that you are trying to organise your busy life whilst your kids are screaming for your attention. But with education, change will come. By comprehending food labels quickly and easily, and checking ingredients, your healthy eating efforts won’t be sabotaged by marketing. We take food too much at face value. Unfortunately, we need to learn to NOT trust the screaming marketing slogans of ‘fat free’ ‘reduced sugar’ and so on and so forth.

Being adults, the only person that decides what goes into your body is YOU. I understand that for children, things are much different, and here reducing advertising etc. aimed at them would definitely help. Remember Sunny Delight? Those adverts were awesome (I was young[er] then)!


If you want to change ANYTHING – your body, your training, your friendships, your job, whatever, YOU have to commit to doing it. No one else can do it for you. We see it all the time with training clients, and it’s the main reason I’m not a ‘hard sell’ kind of guy. I want people who are committed to change and most importantly are ready to take on that responsibility.

Are you ready to take control of your own life or are you just going to carry on doing what you’ve always done?

You can read the Guardian article here - which has a copy of the report available.

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