'Sugar Reduction: The evidence for action' review

22 October 2015

In September 2015, the House of Commons Health Select Committee announced that it would hold a short inquiry, focusing on childhood obesity. The committee had expected Public Health England (PHE) to publish advice on the role of sugar reduction in combating obesity in July 2015. However, controversy emerged, as the Department of Health suggested that the evidence should not be published while it was being used by the government to support policy formulation.

The Chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, wrote to PHE Chief Executive, Duncan Selbie, on 9 October 2015 to request publication.

Wollaston did not believe that the views of the secretary of state for health should prevent publication of the document, since the framework agreement that set up PHE emphasised that it should be free to publish and speak on issues relating to the nation's health and wellbeing. She also suggested that delayed publication would be as harmful as non-publication, if it meant that professionals and the public were unable to influence the forthcoming government obesity strategy.

In further correspondence, Wollaston suggested that the delay was 'an obstruction' of the committee's work.

On 22 October 2015, Public Health England (PHE) published Sugar Reduction: The evidence for action, a review of the evidence on interventions to help reduce sugar consumption. The report emphasised that no single action would be effective in achieving meaningful reductions in sugar intakes at a population level. It said that a broad, structured programme of measures was required, including reducing the impact of influences that increase consumption, reducing the sugar content of food and drinks, and supporting people to make healthier choices.

PHE outlined that a successful programme might include the following interventions:

  • reduce and rebalance the number and type of price promotions in all retail outlets
  • significantly reduce opportunities to market and advertise high-sugar food and drink
  • set a clear definition for high-sugar foods
  • introduce a structured programme of gradual sugar reduction
  • introduce a price increase of a minimum of 10–20% on high-sugar products, through the use of a tax or levy
  • adopt, implement and monitor the government buying standards for food and catering services across the public sector
  • ensure accredited training in diet and health is routinely delivered to those who have opportunities to influence food choices
  • continue to raise awareness of concerns around dietary sugar levels among the public, as well as health professionals, employers and the food industry.

In response to the report, a spokesperson for Number 10 said that David Cameron had ruled out the prospect of introducing a tax on fizzy drinks and sweet food, and that he believed there were 'more effective' ways of tackling obesity.


Public Health England.
Sugar Reduction; The evidence for action.
Public Health England; 2015.

Dathan M., Cooper C.
Sugar tax ruled out by David Cameron; 'There are more effective ways of tackling obesity'.
The Independent; 2015.

Wollaston S.
Publication of Public Health England's 'Evidence into Action' review letter.
Health Committee; 2015.

Wollaston S.
Delay in publication of Public Health England's impartial review of the evidence on reducing sugar consumption letter.
Health Committee; 2015.