Action on Sugar, Salt, Saturated Fat, Advertising and Supermarket Layout

“Campaign group” Action on Sugar yesterday launched their Childhood Obesity Action Plan, as requested by Jeremy Hunt MP and having read it I am again confused, baffled and befuddled, in fact nearly as much it seems, as they are.

I highlighted the many obvious problems with the Action on Sugar campaign previously noting their narrow focus and failure to acknowledge obesity as a multifaceted issue. I also more recently pointed out that their campaign had singled out sugar as uniquely damaging while espousing the virtues of fat and that this was a bad idea.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that an obsessive focus on a single macronutrient (fat) is one of the reasons that we are where we are today, and that claims that reducing added sugar alone in processed food would solve the obesity crisis are ridiculous.

It seems however that something, somewhere has changed.

The Childhood Obesity Action Plan produced by Action on Sugar finally acknowledges that there are wider issues than just sugar reduction and that a range of measures will be required. Its not exactly a step change, the suggested measures are impractical and they still seems determined to blame the food industry for everything, but its an improvement of sorts.

However if you read the detail of the action plan you might raise an eyebrow – as unfeasibly high as Roger Moore during the 1980’s – at some of the contents.

Take Action 4 for example

Fat is a major source of calorie intake; we propose an incremental fat reduction programme similar to the salt and sugar reduction programme, to reduce fat by 15% by 2020 in all products.


Its taken them nearly six months to realise that calorie dense foods containing fat – which has about twice the calories of sugar – also need to be considered if you are to offer a joined up solution to obesity. Yes the suggest reduction constitutes only roughly 30kcal/day for 11-18 year olds but why did no one realise this for so long?

Even more surprising however is the rationale for targeting reductions in saturated fat

This should particularly focus on saturated fat, as this is the major factor controlling cholesterol levels (which is the third cause of death globally, through the vascular disease it causes, which leads to both strokes and heart attacks and peripheral vascular disease

Surprising because Action on Sugars Science Director Aseem Malhotra is the very person who wrote an article in the BMJ expressly refuting each and every statement in this rationale.

Does the Science Director not set the campaigns approach based upon the consensus view of the evidence? Has he had an epiphany since last year? How are decisions taken at Action on Sugar: A coin toss? The direction of the wind? A spur of the moment decision by the author of the press release?

Does anyone really think that Action on Sugar – now seemingly Action on Sugar, Salt, Saturated Fat, Advertising and Supermarket Layout – can come up with a coherent joined up solution to obesity when their very name shows how little they understand the issues, and they have a science director who doesn’t even subscribe to the views they promote?




7 thoughts on “Action on Sugar, Salt, Saturated Fat, Advertising and Supermarket Layout

  1. We need an action group called “Action on Fat”. Just kidding! Healthy eating guidelines already encourage low-fat diets.

    In , Yoni Freedhoff points out that the obesity problem cannot be solved by tackling one factor alone. However, it doesn’t mean that the one factor shouldn’t be tackled, otherwise there would be no progress. Sugar is consumed in excessive amounts, due to its ubiquitous presence in processed foods & SSB’s.

    Excessive consumption of fructose (sucrose is 50/50 fructose & glucose) causes fatty liver derangement and starts the process leading to type 2 diabetes, See Dietary fat aids & abets the process, once fatty liver derangement has occurred.

    An excessive % of energy from sugars increases the % of pattern B LDL (small LDL). This increases the LDL particle count (LDL-P), which increases heart attack mortality. See

    I’d be happy for there to be a sugar/junk foods tax, provided the revenue is used to subsidise produce.

    1. I agree with Yoni Freedhoff that we shouldn’t sit on our hands because we can’t address all of the factors in the obesity problem but I think you need to take great care in your approach.

      If you demonise one macro you risk displacement – we’ve done this with fat, now its sugar, then its fat – we are going full circle.

      This is the problem with Action on Sugar is their views are cobbled together and incoherent. I cannot trust a group who six months ago said they could solve the obesity crisis by taking 20-30% of the sugar out of process food to give a 100kCal/day deficit, and who now backtrack and start mentioning saturated fat.

      The shame is that there were more modest targets where the evidence is stronger e.g. SSB’s and where good work could have been done.

      I’m, not an expert on fructose but my understanding was that the “excessive” doses required for harm in humans are likely to be much higher than everyday consumption?!

      I’m against taxation – I think it is touted too easily as a simple remedy, but is unlikely to succeed in isolation.

  2. Sugar is an easy target, personally I think it’s “just a carbohydrate” and attacking sugar will lead to modified starches with artificial sweeteners as reformulations and we’ll repeat the errors of demonising fat leading to increased carbohydrate consumption.

    The only science to support an attack on sugar might be that sugar is associated with extra calorie intake in free living humans, although the science supporting the link between current adiposity and calorie intake is missing in action.

    1. Thanks for the comment Phil and apologies it was in moderation while I was on holiday.

      I agree sugar is an easy target – I am highly suspicious of the motives of some members of Action on Sugar, I suspect that some see demonising sugar as a first step to demonising carbohydrates more widely.

  3. The reason why I’m in favour of taxation is because, at the moment, over-processed food products seem to be cheaper than produce. A tax on products, used to subsidise produce, would level the playing field a bit.

  4. Also: Starch comes in slow-to-hydrolyse (amylose) and fast-to-hydrolyse (amylopectin/maltodextrin) varieties, but they all hydrolyse to glucose, which is partly taken-up by muscle glycogen & adipocytes.

    The fructose part of sucrose is 100% taken-up by the liver.

    ∴ Starch is less harmful than sugar.
    ∴ Slow-to-hydrolyse starch is much less harmful than sugar.

    If sugar is replaced weight for weight by slow-to-hydrolyse starch + artificial sweeteners, that will improve health considerably.

    I don’t see how that’s demonising fat, or encouraging increased carbohydrate consumption (although the food industry usually finds a way to “spin” any changes, in order to increase sales).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s