Nav: Home

Reforms to agricultural policy may increase sugar consumption and harm public health

October 27, 2015

Sugar has an important role in the development of obesity and diabetes. In July, the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition reduced its recommendations for sugars to no more than 5% of daily calories. And earlier this year, Public Health England proposed measures to reduce sugar consumption.

So far, however, "relatively little attention has been given to important structural factors, including agriculture, which influence sugar consumption in the UK," argue Emilie Aguirre and colleagues from the University of Cambridge. "Agricultural policy, through its effect on price and availability of foods, is known to be an important determinant of health."

The European Common Agricultural Policy - which sets common rules for all EU member states - has protected the sugar industry through interventions that have kept commodity prices high and prevented foreign imports. As a result, the European sugar industry has become extremely profitable and includes five of the world's ten largest producers.

However, the EU has been phasing out these protections, and reforms in 2013 will almost fully liberalise the sugar market in Europe by 2017, with the elimination of production quotas and minimum price guarantees and abolishing the production cap on high fructose corn syrup.

The European Commission predicted that the wholesale price of sugar will drop substantially, production of high fructose corn syrup will treble, and production of sugars will increase by around 15% in the decade after the quotas end. And early indications suggest that these predictions are broadly accurate.

But how will this influence sugar consumption?

The authors say the cheaper cost of sugar will make it even more profitable to add it to processed foods to increase palatability and bulking. In addition, high fructose corn syrup has benefits for flavour, stability, freshness, texture, pourability, and consistency. It can be added to both savoury and sweet foods.

There may also be greater marketing of foods high in sugar because these foods will be very profitable - potentially even more so than currently. And this may encourage industry to resist regulations, they explain.

Cheap processed food items may be most likely to incorporate more sugars, and these cheaper foods are consumed more often by people in lower socioeconomic groups, contributing to widening health inequalities, they add.

The effects of these reforms are likely to be felt beyond Europe because they will open up the world market, particularly in developing countries, for European processed food. The EU Trade Commission and Defra have both supported these reforms.

The authors argue that these reforms, like other agricultural policies globally, "were designed to benefit industry rather than public health." They say "there has been no pause to consider the broader public health implications of sugar reform, even though from the onset the European Commission forecasted that sugar consumption would increase as a result."

They add that "there is a risk that ongoing and proposed measures designed to reduce sugar consumption could be undermined by larger trends in price and production of sugars," and they recommend that Europe and the UK must explore solutions to address the predicted increase of sugars in the food supply.

"It may be necessary for governments to mandate targets for reducing sugar contents of processed foods and implement robust systems for monitoring compliance," they recommend. Furthermore, "it will also be important to monitor food prices, diet, and health to determine the effects the reforms have."

And in the longer term, agriculture policies should promote a healthier diet, they argue. "Since agriculture policies can shape food consumption and nutrition, they should explicitly integrate health."


Related Public Health Articles:

Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Public health experts celebrate 30 years of CDC's prevention research solutions for communities with health disparities
It has been 30 years since CDC created the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program, currently a network of 26 academic institutions across the US dedicated to moving new discoveries into the communities that need them.
Public health experts support federally mandated smoke-free public housing
In response to a new federal rule mandating smoke-free policies in federally funded public housing authorities, three public health experts applaud the efforts of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to protect nonsmoking residents from the harmful effects of tobacco exposure.
The Lancet Public Health: UK soft drinks industry levy estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children
The UK soft drinks industry levy, due to be introduced in April 2018, is estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children, according to the first study to estimate its health impact, published in The Lancet Public Health.
Social sciences & health innovations: Making health public
The international conference 'Social Sciences & Health Innovations: Making Health Public' is the third event organized as a collaborative endeavor between Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and Tomsk State University, the Russian Federation, with participation from Siberian State Medical University (the Russian Federation).
Columbia Mailman School Awards Public Health Prize to NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T.
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was awarded the Frank A.
Poor health literacy a public health issue
America's poor record on health literacy is a public health issue, but one that can be fixed -- not by logging onto the internet but by increased interaction with your fellow human beings, a Michigan State University researcher argues.
Despite health law's bow to prevention, US public health funding is dropping: AJPH study
Although the language of the Affordable Care Act emphasizes disease prevention -- for example, mandating insurance coverage of clinical preventive services such as mammograms -- funding for public health programs to prevent disease have actually been declining in recent years.
'Chemsex' needs to become a public health priority
Chemsex -- sex under the influence of illegal drugs -- needs to become a public health priority, argue experts in The BMJ this week.

Related Public Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".