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Duncan Selbie's Friday message – 31 March 2017

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Dear everyone

On Thursday we published baseline data and guidelines for industry to remove 20% of sugar by 2020 in foods most popular with children as part of our sugar reduction programme – a key milestone in the delivery of the Government’s childhood obesity plan. This ambition is unrivalled anywhere in the world and the potential impact is significant, as we estimate that, by 2020, this would remove 200,000 tonnes of sugar from the British diet every year. This will not be easy, but we know that it can be done, and at the heart is the undeniable fact that a third of children leave primary school overweight or obese, with higher risk of poor health and other problems later in life. They are also more likely to be bullied at school and no parent wants that for their child.

Our consultations over the past year with more than 100 companies from across the food sector, as well as charitable organisations, have instilled confidence in their desire to make sugar reduction a reality, and the commitment we have already seen from major players is encouraging. But there is more to do and we want 2017 to be the year that the food industry gets serious about sugar, including out of home businesses such as restaurants and takeaways. The programme allows as much flexibility as possible for businesses, setting out the three approaches to sugar reduction: reformulation, making portions smaller or encouraging consumers to buy lower or no sugar products in their portfolio. We will make our first public report on progress next March.

Obesity is also the subject of this month’s edition of Health Matters, which was published today and focuses on what can be done to improve the food environment so that the healthier choice becomes the default.  The causes of obesity are complex, with behaviour, environment, genetics and culture all playing a role. The increasing consumption of out-of-home meals has been identified as an important factor for the rise in obesity levels, with one fifth of children eating food from out-of-home food outlets at least once a week. By taking collaborative and co-ordinated action at local level across the public, private and voluntary sectors, councils and partners can support small food businesses and schools to create a healthier food environment and encourage children and families to make healthier choices. Do share the infographics, slide set, case studies, video and blogs with colleagues.

Next Steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View, published today, sets out what has been achieved so far by NHS England, PHE and national and local partners and outlines the work plan for the next two years. It maintains a focus on the three gaps originally identified: the health gap, the care and quality gap and the efficiency gap. This new two-year plan emphasises prevention and early intervention, including commitments on cardiovascular disease such as improving treatment for people with atrial fibrillation.

It is particularly encouraging that for the first time, clear deadlines are being set for all parts of the health service to become tobacco free: in 2017/18 all mental health trusts will become smoke-free, expanding to all acute trusts the following year, leading to all NHS estates becoming smoke-free by 2019/20. Given it has not been possible to smoke in a pub for nearly 10 years, it cannot be right that we accept smoking in the places that people go to get well, and the NHS is uniquely placed to help smokers to quit, be they patients, visitors or staff.

Doing the Right Thing is a joint initiative between the Richmond Group, which comprises 14 of the leading health and social care charities, PHE and the mental health charity Mind. Last week they launched a new website emphasising the contribution of the voluntary and community sector to help people stay well for longer, stay out of hospital when they are unwell, and when they are in hospital to get back home as quickly as possible. Following the publication of the 2016 report, Untapped Potential, we are working with voluntary organisations to develop a template for how they can contribute and add value at scale as key providers of care and health services.

With best wishes,

Friday messages from 2012-2016 are available on GOV.UK

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  1. Comment by Pete Taylor posted on

    Given PHE's commitment to plain English and clear use of statistics, why say that you are launching an ambitious 4-year programme to remove 200k tonnes of sugar from the British diet per year, rather than an ambitious 4-year programme to remove 2 teaspoons of sugar per day from the average person's diet?

    The latter seems much clearer to me!

  2. Comment by Chris Brookes posted on

    I agree with Pete Taylor - it is better to personalise and make understandable rather than give 'a very big number'. I also worry that there may be unintended consequences - more fat and salt to compensate for the lack of sugar. Dont we need to encourage reformulation on all three fronts simultaneously (and maybe encourage more roughage?)