In 2016 the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, began a crusade against the alarming obesity crisis facing our country. He stated that any restaurant that does not reduce the size of their desserts will be “named and shamed” and that the government expects the whole ‘out-of-home sector’ – coffee shops, pubs and family restaurants, quick service restaurants, takeaways, cafes, contract caterers and mass catering suppliers – to step up and deliver on sugar reduction.
Despite these strong words, many were disappointed by the Department of Health’s August 2016 Childhood Obesity Strategy, feeling that the plan of action against obesity was watered down. Lobbyists, academics, parents and those on the front line who see the impact of obesity on young people’s lives were highly critical of this long-awaited document.
Nearly a third of children aged between 2 to 15 years are overweight or obese, with many children now becoming obese at a younger age and staying obese for longer.
We know that the impact of obesity is far reaching, affecting individuals, families, communities and wider society as a whole. In the long term, obesity will increase healthcare costs due to related lifelong illnesses such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, which will put additional strain to an already stretched NHS budget and workforce. The NHS “5 Year Forward View” makes it clear that targeted prevention is a public health priority and incentivising and supporting healthier behaviour is necessary to tackle obesity.
The most prominent action point in the plan is the proposed introduction of a levy on the soft drinks industry, commonly referred to as the “sugar tax”.. Youngsters in the UK are the biggest consumers of sugar-sweetened drinks in Europe, so addressing the consumption of these products had to be a priority due to associations not only with obesity, but also increasing rates of tooth decay and type II diabetes.
A new study1 has shown that the proposed sugar levy could reduce childhood obesity rates by 10%, if manufacturers were to reformulate their products to reduce the sugar content. The idea is that the revenue generated by this tax is used to fund breakfast clubs and physical activity in schools. But the Institute of Economic Affairs points out it is unlikely that the proposed levy will incentivise further reformulation, since manufacturers of sugary drinks popular with children have already introduced reduced sugar and sugar free versions of these drinks. The real impact of the sugar levy remains to be seen, as the details are still being debated ahead of the Finance Bill due in 2017.
The plan also focuses on the sugar content in food, aiming for a 20% reduction. Recent research from Public Health England shows that children are, on average, consuming three times the recommended daily amount of sugar. Too much sugar means too many calories, which we know leads to weight gain in children and adults.
As the plan highlights, a long-term sustainable change can only be achieved when schools, communities, families and individuals are engaged. Studies have shown that modifying environments, helping people to make positive behaviour changes and enabling cultural change will all help with addressing the obesity problem in our society.
With many negative press headlines “naming and shaming” restaurants, it is also an opportunity to highlight some of the positive work that is being done by leading food operators who are proactively making changes that contribute to tackling the obesity problem. Mytime Active, the largest pay and play golf operator in the UK, is an excellent example. They have already made progressive modifications to their offering, as the following interview demonstrates.
Mytime Active, a social enterprise with charitable objectives, is the largest pay and play golf operator in the UK, managing multiple sporting and community-based venues in addition to 16 golf centres located across the South and the Midlands. In addition to this, Mytime Active also delivers clinically-proven, lifestyle-based preventative health services across the UK, including child and adult weight management programmes.
Craig Senior, Group Food, Beverage & Retail Manager at Mytime Active, has been instrumental in making changes in providing healthier food and drink choices to their customers.
He says: “Improving the wellbeing of our customers is at the heart of what we do. We believe everyone has the right to a healthy lifestyle and we want to help our customers make informed choices.”
REDUCED SUGAR CONSUMPTION BY 136KG & INCREASED DRINKS SALE BY 30%
Enabling customers to choose healthier options is important to the business, so a good starting point was to look at the best-selling products and substitute these with healthier alternatives. The first step was to target the consumption of sugary drinks. The most popular drinks among Mytime Active’s key customers; children and young people, were Classic Slush Puppie and the Original Lucozade. Working with Nikki Fox, Procurement Manager at Pelican, Craig decided to replace these with the sugar-free Slush Puppie drink and reduced sugar Lucozade, which contains 30% less sugar than the original product.
“The change was simple – by speaking with our suppliers we were able to trial the products and also secure competitive prices that did not impact on Mytime Active’s margins or the customer’s pocket,”, said Nikki.
Craig explains: “When you consider that the classic Slush Puppie drink contains 23g of sugar, equivalent to approximately 6 sugar cubes, in a 250ml serving and Lucozade Original contains 49g of sugar in a 380ml bottle, swapping from the standard version to a sugar-free or reduced sugar alternative can help our customers reduce their average daily sugar intake significantly.”
To put this into perspective, an adult should have no more than 30g of sugar per day, whilst children should have far less (24g for those aged 7 to 10 years old).
The change wasn’t made overnight. Craig and his team gradually started offering the sugar-free and reduced sugar versions, providing free samples at tasting stations alongside prominent displays and innovative point of sale material.
Craig said “We wanted to let our customers know that they can enjoy sugar-free drinks that taste just as good as the originals.”
Free fresh drinking water is always available, and bottled water is on sale for those customers who prefer it.
As a result, Mytime Active has successfully reduced sugar consumption in drinks across their business by 136kg over the last 12 months and sales of soft drinks have gone up by 30% year on year. Craig is proud that this simple change has been so well received by his customers.
“It is great that we have been able to reduce sugar consumption from beverages by 75% amongst our customers, which of course is better for their health and at the same time has not had an impact on sales. I see it as a win-win situation.”
The next step was to reduce the amount of sugar customers were consuming through snacking.
Craig says: “Another measure we put in place was to take away confectionery items from our main counters and point of sale locations. Instead, we now offer fresh fruit, salads, yogurts, granola, and pop chips. Chocolate and other confectionery items are still available, but they are kept in a place to avoid temptation.”
Craig has also imposed his own sugar levy on popular chocolate bars, which were previously very competitively priced. He adds “Now that we have increased the price of chocolate and sweets, customers are more tempted to choose healthier items instead. It is a tactic that really does work in my experience.”
In common with many other leisure and golf facilities across the country, the vending machines are convenient and popular with customers, and generally filled with unhealthy snack items. Craig was keen to review the vending offering, and made the decision to allocate 25% of the vending machine space to healthier products.
“We had to strike the right balance. Many fresh and healthy products are perishable, so finding the right products wasn’t easy. This is where Nikki at Pelican was able to help and manage the process.”
REDUCED FAT BY 80KG
Craig and his team also reviewed some popular dishes on their menus and adopted healthier ways of cooking.
Craig says: “Sausages are one of our most popular menu items. Nikki from Pelican has helped us to review all the alternative options and source a higher quality sausage that tastes great and has a much lower fat content. By swapping one product alone, we managed to reduce fat by 80kg across all our sites.
“We also embarked on the journey of sourcing new equipment. With the help of Keith and Jo, commercial equipment specialists at Pelican, we have invested over £60,000 in refurbishing our kitchen operation, kitting it out with new combination ovens. These allow us to steam vegetables so that they retain more of their goodness and, rather than roasting in oil, we can now dry roast our potatoes, which makes them crispy but healthier!”
Craig adds “Obviously the key to success is finding healthier alternative products at the right price and without compromising on quality. Having full traceability of how and where the products are sourced, and the ongoing procurement expertise and supply chain management support we get from Pelican, gives me the confidence to make changes to our food operation and offering.”
Changes like these are exactly what Public Health England is trying to encourage, particularly in fitness and leisure centres, so Mytime Active is ahead of the game.
Despite all the changes Craig and his team have made, he doesn’t see his work as done. He says “Being part of the fight against obesity is an ongoing process that requires educating and engaging with kids, parents and the community.”
Craig believes that demonstrating and involving families in cooking will help them make their own healthier choices in the long term.
“Next on my list of things to do is to set up workshops where we invite pupils and their parents from local schools to cook healthy, affordable and tasty food together whilst having some fun.”
- Briggs et al. (2017) Health impact assessment of the UK soft drinks industry levy: a comparative risk assessment modeling study. Lancet Public Health, 2: e15-22.
For more information, about the obesity plan for action visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action
For more information about Mytime Active, please visit www.mytimeactive.co.uk