Worried Sick About Obesity, Brits Might Be Seeing Sugar as 'the New Tobacco'

A new poll of consumer opinions and shopping habits reveals that most U.K. residents are avoiding the sweet stuff.

(Photo: David Gould/Getty Images)

Aug 26, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Medical professionals, health policy makers, and crusading activists such as chef Jamie Oliver have called it “the new tobacco.” Now concern about sugar consumption seems to be spreading to the British public too. According to a recent survey of customer shopping habits, our cousins across the pond are more concerned about the amount of sugar found in what they’re buying at the grocery store than about anything else in their food.

The first-ever Bridgethorne Shopper Index, a survey of consumer opinions and satisfaction, found that 49.2 percent of respondents are worried about the amount of the sweet stuff in their food—more than the 44 percent stressed over the amount of fat in items or the nearly 42 percent who are worried about additives, such as food coloring and artificial flavors. As a result, nearly two-thirds said they are trying to reduce the amount of sugar they’re eating, 75 percent are purchasing fewer sugary products, and 85 percent are reading labels looking for hidden sugars.

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“Sugar is clearly the biggest concern perhaps indicating a long term shift in shopper and consumer behaviour and attitudes,” said John Nevens, the joint managing director of Bridgethorne, in a statement.

Worries about well-being are helping drive the shift. Nearly 30 percent of respondents cited the health problems sugar can cause—such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity—as driving their decision making. Similar to rates in the United States, a startling 64 percent of women and 74 percent of men are projected to be obese in the U.K. by 2030, according to a report released in May by the World Health Organization. To reduce obesity rates, in July a committee of British scientists recommended that the government cut the recommended amount of daily sugar intake in half, down to seven teaspoons.

The response about sugar makes it clear that “the demand and need for lower sugar products will not subside,” said Nevens. “Long-term global macro health trends alongside revelations in the U.K., such as childhood obesity, are making this a matter that neither the retailer nor the manufacturing communities can ignore. It is fast becoming an area of ‘must have’ corporate responsibility.”