Brands focusing on sugar in obesity crackdown may be 'misleading' consumers about what it means to be healthy

Health messaging should not just focus on sugar intake according to new research

In light of the UK government’s sugar tax proposals and overall public concerns about sugar consumption big name brands like Coca-Cola have been investing heavily in making sure consumers know all about their sugar free credentials.

New research, however, has concluded that focusing health messages on sugar in isolation may “mislead consumers” on the need to also reduce overall calories, including those from fat.

Scientists at Glasgow University examined the diets of more than 100,000 people in the UK as part of an ongoing health study, and found that fat made the biggest contribution to calorie intake of those involved.

Of the participants, two thirds (66 per cent) of men and more than half (52 per cent) of women, were measured as obese.

According to the study, the critical factor in the current global obesity epidemic is overall calorie intake with evidence suggesting that if people focus on reducing one type of food, ie sugar, they simply compensate by eating more over another instead of reducing their overall calories.

Describing this as the “sugar-fat seesaw” Jill Pell, director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, and co-lead author of the research said: “The critical message is that people need to reduce their overall calories. If focusing attention on sugar results in people compensating by eating more crisps then we will fail to combat obesity.”

The research is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Companies went on the defensive after the UK government unveiled a sugar tax for soft drink brands selling high sugar products earlier this year. The proposed scheme will fine drinks giants on the volume of sugar-sweetened products they make or import at the rate of 18p and 24p a litre.

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