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article imageBritish officials accused of hiding key sugar-health link data

By Tim Sandle     Oct 17, 2015 in Health
London - Excess sugar is not good for you and it is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. But how much is bad? If there is new evidence, why not release it? If the government knows, why not tell the population?
These questions have come to the fore during a recent health select committee. Select committees are forums where British parliamentarians can scrutinize the workings of government and call ministers to account.
At the health select committee, the assembly of Members of Parliament, drawn from the main political parties, accused Conservative Party member and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of suppressing the findings of a recent scientific review into sugar.
In particular, the chair of the committee, Sarah Wollaston is concerned that the report is being suppressed because it makes the case for a "sugar tax," as an additional levy on sugary foods so that a higher cost would act as a disincentive for consumers to purchase sugar-laden foods and to allow healthier alternatives to be pitched at a similar price on supermarket shelves.
At the committee, accusations were made that the British government was not releasing the report, which was put together by Public Health England (PHE), as a result of lobbying from the sugar industry and from Conservative Party politicians for whom the idea of nudge economics is an anathema.
The report, according to the Daily Telegraph, is said to examine the case for and against higher taxes on sugary drinks and sweets, as well as other measures intended to tackle the obesity epidemic, such as cutting down standard potion sizes. Another measure is a proposal to stop supermarkets from offering discount deals on ‘unhealthy’ food.
Jeremy Hunt has denied that anything is being suppressed and has said that the PHE report is not yet ready for publication and that further consideration of the content was required before the British public could read it.
This led to a further discussion about PHE and the ability of government ministers to influence it. PHE is a health agency, funded by the government. However, it is set-up to provided independent and impartial advice. On this, Sarah Wollaston, who is herself a medical doctor, said (as quoted by The Daily Mail): “Sending the wrong message on timely data transparency ... could cause immense damage and call into question the ability and willingness of PHE to act on publication in the public interest independently of the Secretary of State or political consideration.”
It is noted, however, that both Jeremy Hunt and the Prime Minister — David Cameron — have both previously declared they do not support a sugar tax. Should the government’s health agency issue a report in favour of such a measure, this could lead to a tricky debate about government policy.
The final report is awaited with anticipated from supporters on both sides of the sugar argument.
More about Sugar, Obesity, Health warning, Information, Government
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