UK to lead international food network tackling global obesity

The UK has been chosen by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to lead an international network established to tackle global obesity, by cutting sugar and calories in food and drink products.

The new Sugar and Calorie Reduction Network – announced today (Monday, September 13) by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty at the WHO Regional Committee for Europe – will launch in spring 2022.

The network will work together with the food and drink industry to make products healthier, by reducing sugar content in products high in fat, salt and sugar.

The network’s member states will share learning expertise to encourage manufacturers to reformulate products by cutting the amount of sugar, and therefore calories, in food and drinks.

In a statement released by the Department of Health and Social Care, public health minister Jo Churchill said:

Obesity is a global problem and we need to take urgent action to help people live healthier lives. This starts with the food and drink we consume and reducing the elements that are bad for our health.

“Following strong action through our healthy weight strategy, I am delighted the UK will lead this international network to reformulate products and promote healthier food choices for people across Europe.”

Obesity in the UK

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above – between 25 and 30 is considered ‘overweight’.

In the 2019 Health Survey for England, it was estimated that 28% of adults in England were obese and a further 36.2% overweight (but not obese).

In children, the figures were 9.9% obese and 13.1% overweight for those aged 4-5, and 21% obese and 14.1% overweight for those aged 10-11.

This WHO network will support the UK government’s existing commitments to sugar and calorie reduction programmes and to take tackling obesity onto the global stage as part of its Tackling Obesity strategy, published last year.

So far, the UK has reduced sugar by 13% in breakfast cereals, yogurts and fromage frais.