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The Sugar Reduction Summit; Industry, Regulation and Public Health

With almost two thirds of adults in the UK now classified as overweight or obese, there is no doubt that obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of our time and that, continued unchecked, it will bankrupt public health services. Sugar’s role in obesity continues to take centre-stage in the media, with headline grabbing stories not only on its link to obesity but correlations to cancers, cardio-vascular disease, heart disease and diabetes. Scientists and public health professionals have decried the high levels of hidden sugar found in everyday foods, and drawn parallels between the tobacco and food industries – invoking the rising tide of obesity and questioning whether sugar taxation and additional regulation is an inevitable necessity.

We are entering a period of unprecedented change, and calls for change, to the food and drink regulatory environment which, managed appropriately, provide an opportunity to cumulatively impact on consumption of sugar and, in turn on obesity; –   The introduction of a sugar tax on sugar sweetened beverages and clear warnings from Government that they will consider adding additional categories, the publication of the Childhood Obesity Strategy which purportedly includes bold and decisive action, changes to advertising and marketing guidelines which will finally see regulatory controls of the wider digital media space to which children in particular are so exposed, calls for health warnings on packaging of high sugar drinks and for the volume of sugar to be immediately visible on packaging and a clear call from the Retail industry that a degree of legislation is essential in creating a level playing field.

These changes and initiatives offer much needed opportunities to ultimately reduce the amount of sugar consumed but they are still not enough.  Two years on from the WHO and SACN recommendations – and the media noise that followed – to halve the amount of free sugars in our diet, we are still not meeting the previous 10% target let alone the new 5% and research suggests a fundamental overhaul of our dietary habits would be required to do so.  What are the next steps in sugar reduction? What more can be done?  What role for Industry and Retail, and for Public Health?  Should we be doing more to increase acceptability of sweeteners so they can be used more extensively, to further reduce sugar?  Is a sugar tax viable and what impact will it have?  If the threat of taxation itself is a catalyst for reformulation, which product categories will be next?

The third annual Sugar Reduction Summit will once again bring together a unique mix of public health, policymakers, industry, academia and the health and wellness communities to to debate the viability and efficacy of newly proposed regulations including sugar tax, advertising and EU level changes to labelling, to explore the effectiveness and impact of voluntary measures and to look at the latest research on the role of sweeteners in sugar reduction.

Key topics will include:

  • Sugar Reduction: 3 years on, what’s changed – and what’s next
  • How has consumer purchasing of sugar changed in the last 12 months and what impact did the sugar tax announcement have on purchasing
  • Can we achieve the 5% target or is it unrealistic?
  • What would need to change to get us closer to 5% of calories from added sugars?
  • What changes would have the most dramatic impact in reducing sugar consumption?
  • Should and can we follow the USA, in separating added and total sugars on labelling?
  • Is the focus on sugar counter-productive and muddling for consumers?
  • Should sugary drinks contain health warnings?
  • Will the sugary drinks tax be passed on to consumers, lost in promotions or absorbed by manufacturers – and will it have any impact on purchasing?
  • The evidence: are sweeteners an effective way to reduce total calorie intake?
  • How do sweeteners impact on behaviour?
  • Artificial versus natural sweeteners – what’s the difference?
  • Sweetness economics – what impact will changing prices of sugar and sweeteners have on manufacturing
  • Could sweeteners be extended to more categories?
  • What are the opportunities for new sweeteners?
  • Is the sugar tax legally viable?
  • How will the design of the sugar tax impact its effectiveness?
  • Is positioning the sugar tax as a positive for school sports actually counter-productive?
  • Which categories might be next in line for a sugar tax?
  • Industry is “on notice” to produce meaningful change – how will that happen without legislation?
  • What motivates voluntary action in the food industry, how do we get it right?