Week on a Plate

The week digested: obesity-related stories ring in 2019

Catch up on the food news from January 1-4, from excessive sugar consumption by 10-year-olds to debate over the effectiveness of artificial sweeteners.

4 January 2019
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Children overdose on sugar

For those entering the New Year already burdened with guilt over food consumption, the headlines this week have been salt in the wound – or perhaps that should be sugar. The most striking soundbite comes from Public Health England (PHE), which claims that “10-year-olds in the UK have consumed 18 years’ worth of sugar.” The government body says that the average child aged 10 has ingested as much sugar as the maximum recommended amount for an adult aged 18, revealing the news to coincide with the launch of PHE’s new Change4Life campaign.

 

Non-sugar sweeteners have no benefits

In related news, a review by British medical research charity Cochrane has found no evidence that non-sugar sweeteners (NSSs) – such as stevia or aspartame – provide health benefits. There was also insufficient research to confirm whether or not the substances were harmful to health, though no studies examined suggested that they were unsafe. The review was conducted to help the World Health Organisation prepare guidance on NSSs, though a number of commentators – including Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone – noted that sweeteners were still a good alternative to sugar.

 

Is obesity a disease?

As the debate over how to tackle rising levels of overweight adults and children continues, the Royal College of Physicians has suggested reclassifying obesity as a disease “caused by health inequalities, genetic influences and social factors.” The medical body argues that this would remove the stigma associated with obesity and put the focus on government to supply solutions, including regulation, taxation, and better availability and affordability.

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Scottish hospitals make money off junk

Scotland is having its own battle with obesity, with experts calling on NHS Scotland to ban vending machines that sell junk food. Snacks and fizzy drinks allegedly made hospitals in Scotland a combined £550,000 last year.

 

Bottle recycling scheme shows signs of success

Iceland has revealed initial results of its plastic bottle recycling scheme – and it is delivering “significant results,” according to the retailer. The “reverse vending machines,” installed at five sites, have accumulated 311,500 bottles since going into operation. As incentive, customers who deposit bottles purchased at the stores in the contraptions receive a 10p voucher.

 

A bee in the bonnet over Manuka honey

A scientist at Waikato University, New Zealand, has warned that Manuka honey arriving in the UK may have lost its active ingredient, methylglyoxal, by the time it reaches stores. Jars of Manuka are valued for their supposed antibacterial properties, leading to some hefty price tags, but there is no legal definition for the product, giving rise to concerns about fake and diluted products.

image credit: Getty Images

Top traders

Strong sales at Daphne’s, J Sheekey and The Ivy have helped see Caprice Holdings through tough trading conditions. Overall like-for-like sales grew 2.1% to the end of 2017. Over at Wagamama, meanwhile, turnover rose 15.4% to November 11, as the Asian casual dining chain outperformed the market.

 

Pudding tax proposed

A pudding tax could be on the horizon if the food industry fails to make more progress in cutting sugar by spring. The news comes following reports last week on draft proposals that would cap the number of calories in everyday items like sandwiches (550 calories) and ready meals (544 calories).

image credit: Getty Images

Overloading on protein

The Guardian takes an in-depth look at the obsession with protein consumption and how it could be damaging health and the environment.

 

More productive plants

Scientists have increased the productivity in tobacco plants, paving the way for the technique to be used on other crops. Using genetic engineering, researchers were able to improve the effectiveness of photosynthesis, making them “40% more productive in real world agronomic conditions.” The team at the University of Illinois and the US Agricultural Research Service will now trial their discover on potatoes, though it is expected to take more than a decade before the fruit of their labours has regulatory approval and reaches the market.

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