I am grateful to the Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment for being given the opportunity to provide further information on progress being made by the Department for Health and Social Care in developing and delivering policies to improve diet and reduce obesity.
At the evidence session on 11 June, I committed to provide further details on regulatory action on the food and drinks industry.
As the Committee is aware, in September 2019, Public Health England (PHE) published its year 2 progress report: Sugar reduction: progress between 2015 and 2018. This report showed that there have been successes and missed opportunities in reducing sugar in products, but both the in-home and out-of-home sectors continue to make progress. This proved that reformulation does work, families can now purchase products with lower levels of sugar than before the programme began.
The voluntary approach to drive sugar reduction in product categories with varying technical complexities enabled guidelines to be set relatively quickly. This is in comparison with the legislative process that would be required to underpin a mandatory approach. The action on sugar reduction was based on the success of the UK’s voluntary salt reduction programme, where achievements were made in significantly lowering the population’s intake of salt over a 10-year period from 9.5g to 8.1g per day. Thanks to its success, the salt review programme received international recognition from the WHO, and facilitated ongoing collaborative work with other countries who are interested in implementing a range of salt reduction programmes and approaches.
The next PHE progress reports on sugar reduction, due later this year and 2021, will inform Government if industry has acted sufficiently on its responsibilities or whether additional actions are needed. The Government has been clear that if there is insufficient progress made by industry to meet the 20% target by 2020, it would consider other possible levers. We have laid down a strong marker in the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) that the Government is willing to take regulatory action. We are monitoring the situation closely and we continue to consider the options open to us, but first the effectiveness of the programme must be evaluated.
The Government has also committed to consider the sugar reduction progress achieved in sugary milk-based drinks as part of its 2020 review of the milk drinks exemption from the SDIL. Sugary milk drinks may be included in the SDIL if insufficient progress on sugar reduction has been made.
As a Government, we are absolutely committed to improving diet and reducing obesity. The Prime Minister recognises how much helping people to be a healthy weight can support our resilience as individuals and as a country. This is the decade in which we will make a difference, by reducing levels of obesity and achieving our bold ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
I understand the Department for Work and Pensions will be contacting you separately to address your comments on an independent organisation to pursue the outcome of the National Food Strategy.
I am grateful to the Committee for its valuable contribution and ongoing commitment to this area.
Jo Churchill MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prevention,
Public Health and Primary Care
19 June 2020