The merits and disadvantages of taxing fat and sugar, together with the role of food science plus a host of other subjects featured in our line seminar. We feature here key quotes from the speakers, our webinar partner the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) and two other influential groups that backed online seminar: the British Dietetic Association and the Nutrition Society.
If you missed the debate, which aired on Thursday July 3, register here to hear the one-hour discussion. Once registered, you can listen at any time any number of times to the discussion.
Taking part in the webinar – Obesity and health: the big fat, sugar and salt debate – were: Barbara Gallani, director of regulatory, science and health at the Food and Drink Federation; Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of cardiovascular Medicine at Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine; Dr Charlotte Evans, lecturer - nutritional epidemiology and public health nutrition at the University of Leeds and Professor Alan Jackson, director National Institute for Health Research at Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.
Here are their key quotes on pivotal subjects in the debate.
Scale of the problem
MacGregor: “We are faced with a global pandemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes and this is entirely due to ultra-processed fast food that is very high in sugar, fat and salt and sweetened soft drinks. Not of these give any feeling of fullness and satiation.”
Jackson: “It’s possible, by choosing one or other facet, to argue against almost any position and that makes for an engaging debate. But none of that detracts from the fact we have a serious problem [about obesity] in our society that touches nearly everyone and is threatening, not only the current health but the future health of the population.”
Jackson: “The challenge is not only to speak frankly but to listen carefully to what others say. And to work out how we can bring all the different perspectives together to work towards our common ambition, which has to be the health of the population.”
Taxing sugar and fat
Evans: “It seemed very sensible to increase the cost of butter by introducing a fat tax in Denmark. But they found that people drove [over the border] to Germany to fill up their car boots with butter. So, we know we can’t just come up with good ideas; we need to evaluate them fully to ensure the obesity crisis is management in the best possible way.”
Evans: “We need an holistic approach … we are in a position where the cheapest foods are not good for your health and so I think that tax is a very good idea, and of course evaluating to make sure we do identify any unforeseen circumstances as well.”
MacGregor: “The government should also put a tax on sugar and move responsibility for nutrition from the ridiculous [public health] responsibility deal – where the food industry is responsible for itself – to the FSA [Food Standards Agency] and have a proper scientific plan …”.
MacGregor: “If you look at cigarettes, look at alcohol, the higher the tax, the lower the consumption. Certainly my view is that we should plan in the UK to put a tax on sugar as a threat to the food industry in order to get them to conform to targets and we could have regulatory targets for sugar.”
Gallani: “Additional taxes placed on food have not proven to deliver positive health impacts in other jurisdictions, rather they are regressive and have the potential for unintended consequences.”
Gallani on the effectiveness of self regulation: “Product ranges contain fewer calories through recipe reformulation, new product development and changes to portion sizes. In some cases, companies are able to reduce the sugar in recipes in order to achieve an overall calorie reduction and offer individuals low sugar options that remain of high quality and keep the desired taste.”
Gallani: “The two messages for me are: stick to the science and to the evidence. And also appreciate the work the industry has been doing over the year to improve products, recipes and access to food.”
Jackson: “The food industry has lost the trust of many parts of the society and collectively they will have to work very hard to regain that trust. Failure to accept this work in the agreed direction of improvement should meet with a legislative approach as appropriate.”
Jackson: “The food industry carries a special, heavy responsibility because of its enormous economic power, resource and capability to influence and modify individual choice and behaviour. This power and opportunity can and should be used for better outcomes and needs to be deployed in an open and transparent way.”
Partners’ support for the webinar
Jon Poole, ceo IFST: “Given the well-balanced make-up of the panel for this web-based seminar, I am sincerely hopeful we can through some of the unhelpful rhetoric and, instead, focus for just one hour on the scientific evidence. My expectation is that anyone involved in making decisions about diet and health – whether in government or in the food processing sector – can, once and for all, gain some clarity from this webinar.”
Andy Burman, chief executive British Dietetic Association (BDA): “Obesity costs an estimated £5bn per year in England alone and there is no simple answer as to how to tackle it. However the debate is an important one and it is vitally important the evidence base informs the strategy. We need to be guided by current thinking and work collectively. The BDA hopes the debate will inform, educate, enlighten and engage with anyone interested in the challenges.”
Listen to the full one-hour webinar here.