I have stood at the supermarket checkout, waited in the cinema foyer or sat in the local coffee shop chain and been amazed at the level of sugary beverages, sweets, cakes, sugar laden convenience food people are buying and consuming.

Within the United Kingdom today roughly 70,000 people a year die prematurely due to diet related illness (1), many of these possibly related to obesity and diabetes, both of which have been linked to high sugar diets.

I hear arguments from both camps, some say;

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“Yes tax sugary foods this will reduce intake!”

Others say;

“First it was fat, now its sugar, the government are just looking for new ways to get money off us!’”

If only it was this simple…

For many years European policy has protected the sugar industry by ensuring prices remained high and capping the production of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a cheap alternative to sucrose produced by sugar manufacturers which is used predominantly within baked goods, convenience foods and soft drinks.

However in 2017 this ‘protection’ will cease and sugar prices are expected to fall.

In addition, the capped production of HFCS at 5% will be abolished. Subsequently prices of sugar are likely to fall and production of HFCS may treble.

As a consequence of these falls and increases in sugar production more, no less sugar is likely to go into existing sugar containing foods and also added to a wider range of foods.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

HFCS especially is a gift to food manufactures as in addition to sweetness it may improve texture and freshness (2).

Of all the sugars this is probably the one we should be most concerned about as studies are linking it to fatty liver, a condition which is understood to promote issues such as insulin resistance and hypertension (3).

This would be backed by evidence published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2012 which identified countries with the highest intake of HFCS had the highest incidence of type 2 diabetes (4).

sugar tax pros and cons_2So would a sugar tax help?

– Probably not if the price of manufacturing these goods were to fall significantly as forecast, due to low cost sugar.

– A BMJ analysis published in May 2012 suggested Tax would need to be at least 20% to have any significant effect, it was also suggested that other actions such as subsidising healthy foods would offer benefit.

Is sugar going to result in the same confusion seen with fats?

All fats were demonised and replaced in many cases by sugar to improve the flavour of low fat products, however as most of us now know some fats are really good for us and should be included within our diets, so are listed separately on packages.

But sugar is labelled sugar whether it is a fruit sugar in a healthy high protein snack bar such as nakd (13.7 grams sugar) or a two-finger  wafer bar, covered in chocolate, that we all know ( 10.8 grams of sugar), which is predominantly sucrose some fat and not much else.

Differences in sugars

In 2015 Public Health England published a report on sugar and suggested that certain sugars such as sucrose and fructose should be called ‘free sugars’ this would distinguish them from complex sugars found within whole fruit, where fibre is also present (5).

When or if this is adopted on food labels addressing the sugar issue on a consumer level will be so much easier and taxing more plausible.

However in the meantime perhaps it is up to the government to regulate sugar use within the food industry where self-regulation at present may be influenced by profit?

It is also understood that some of those working in advisory positions may also receive funding through the sugar industry, which may suggest conflict of interest may well be a concern (6)?

Connect with Expert Susan Brough

The majority of the information included was published within the British Medical Journal and all references are available on request.

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