Oxford City Council takes pioneering step to help people reduce their sugar intake

Published: Tuesday, 13th March 2018

Oxford City Council has taken a pioneering step and become the first local authority outside London to sign a declaration to help people reduce their sugar intake.

The Local Government Declaration on Sugar Reduction and Healthier Food requires the City Council to take specific actions to make it easier for Oxford residents to reduce their sugar consumption.

These will include offering free tap water stations in City Council-run cafes, and display information about the sugar content of food and drinks next to vending machines in City Council-owned leisure centres.

The actions were chosen following a public consultation with Oxford residents, which asked people what steps should be taken, if any, to tackle sugar intake.

The declaration was created by Sustain, a charity that advocates food and farming practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, and has already been signed by seven councils in London.

The declaration forms part of the City Council’s wider work to help reduce sugar intake.

Last year, the City Council teamed up with the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Good Food Oxford and other local organisations, to launch Sugar Smart Oxford.

The project, which is led by Good Food Oxford after it won a £5,000 grant from Sustainable Food Cities, aims educate individuals, communities and businesses on the healthier choices that are available to them, and the responsibility we all have to highlight these choices.

The campaign, which launched at the Kassam Stadium during Oxford United’s match against Northampton on 11 November 2017, will include delivering school assemblies, hosting university debates, and encouraging businesses to sign up to Sugar Smart commitments.

The public consultation, which ran from November 2017 to January 2018, aimed to gather the views of Oxford residents surrounding sugar consumption and inform the City Council’s commitments as part of the declaration.

The consultation saw 665 responses, including 421 online and 244 via postcards.

Of those who responded:

  • 41 per cent (273 of 665) said they thought they had more than the recommended maximum amount of sugar per day (For added sugars, this is approximately 30g of sugar a day for those aged 11 and over), and a further 17 per cent (113) said they were not sure
  • 92 per cent (612) thought young people had more than the recommended maximum amount of sugar per day 
  • 65.6 per cent (436) were “very concerned” about the amount of sugar in food and drinks, and 30.4 per cent (202) were “a bit concerned”. Only 3.6 per cent of people (24) were “not at all concerned”
  • 93 per cent of those who responded (618) were worried about at least one health effect of sugar on themselves
  • 77 per cent (512) were concerned about the effect of sugar on their weight
  • 73 per cent (485) were concerned about its effects on their dental health
  • 62 per cent(412) were concerned about developing type 2 diabetes
  • 52 per cent (346) were worried about the effects on their behaviour and mood

Parents were particularly worried about the health impact of sugar on their children. Of the people concerned about at least one child health issue:

  • 78 per cent (519) were concerned about sugar’s effect on their children’s weight
  • 89 per cent (592) were concerned about sugar’s effect on their children’s teeth
  • and 75 per cent (499) were concerned about sugar’s effect the development of Type 2 diabetes and also on behaviour/mood

In order of popularity, the measures that people wanted to see happen to help reduce their sugar intake were:

  1. Offer tap water as standard in cafes and canteens – 62 per cent of people (412) “agreed” with this
  2. Make healthier options more visible – 52 per cent (346)
  3. Traffic light ratings (red/yellow/green) to explain the sugar content of drinks – 46 per cent (306)
  4. Sugar Smart assemblies or debates in schools and colleges – 44 per cent (293)
  5. Limit the proportion of sugary drinks in cafés and canteens – 41 per cent (273)
  6. Display information about sugar in drinks at vending machines – 38 per cent (253)
  7. 10p ‘sugar tax’ on sugary drinks in cafés and canteens – 36 per cent (239)
  8. Individual challenges such as cutting out sugary drinks for a week – 28 per cent (186)

Only 1.2 per cent of people (eight) thought no action was needed at all in Oxford's workplaces, cafés, canteens, leisure centres, schools and colleges to help reduce people’s sugar consumption.

Following the consultation, Oxford City Council, as part of the Local Government Declaration on Sugar Reduction and Healthier Food, has now pledged to:

  • Offer tap water stations in City Council cafés, and traffic light sticker system to explain sugar content on drinks sold
  • Display sugar content information next to vending machines in City Council-owned leisure centres – the City Council is working with Fusion to implement this commitment, having agreed to do so at the Leisure Partnership Board. Eye-catching floor stickers will be utilised to display this information;
  • Give preference to suppliers that offer tap water as standard, as well as healthier options, through the City Council’s procurement processes – the City Council’s procurement process is currently being reviewed to incorporate an approach to support sustainability and healthy eating;
  • Limit advertising of sugary drinks at City Council facilities and noticeboards -
  • Encourage Oxford’s businesses to sign up to Sugar Smart commitments through promotion and marketing, partnerships already in place and via local Business Networks we are a part of. Our Environmental Health Teams will also support this through their visits and work with local food establishments
  • Promote Sugar Smart Oxford at community events, on City Council noticeboards, and on social media

Local businesses and workplaces can take part in Sugar Smart Oxford by signing up to one or more of the business commitments:

  • Promote free tap water
  • Adopt a traffic light sticker system on canteen/café drinks menus
  • Make 80% of drinks offered sugar free
  • Make healthier options more visible
  • Display sugar content information on vending machines
  • Introduce a 10p sugar tax on sales of sugary drinks in canteens/cafés, to go to a children’s health fund

If they sign up to three or more commitments, their business will be awarded a Sugar Smart golden teaspoon.

The seven London borough councils that have signed the declaration so far are: Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Haringey, Islington and Greenwich.

The NHS says that consuming too much sugar and too many foods and drinks high in sugar can lead to a range issues, including weight gain, which, in turn, increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

Whilst overall, adults in Oxford are healthier than the England average, for children in Year 6 (at the end of Primary School), 20% are classified as obese.

Councillor Marie Tidball, Board Member for Young People, Schools and Public Health said: “We’re fully behind Oxford’s ambitions to become a Sugar Smart city. The scale of challenge that diet-related disease poses to our country means we need a new approach. We need to move beyond focusing on individual responsibility and look more at the environment that people live in.

“Sugar Smart is a way for communities to take control and work with their local businesses and institutions, challenging them to make the commitments needed to tackle the burden that diet-related disease has on society.”