Sugar is NOT a “nutrient” so let’s not pretend it is 

The announcement last week by the British chancellor George Osborne for the introduction of a sugary drinks tax was very welcome news. I have been campaigning for years with others that a tax on sugary drinks would be a major step forward to help combat obesity and many associated chronic diseases. In February 2013, after a year reviewing the evidence the Academy of Medical Royal colleges ( I sat on the steering committee) produced a ten point obesity action plan which included a tax on sugary drinks.

Towards the end of 2014 I wrote an editorial in the Postgraduate Medical Journal co-authored with the Chief Executive of NHS England Simon Stevens’ fellow, Dr Ben Maruthappu and the now Chair of the General Medical Council, Professor Terence Stephenson about how the NHS should set an example to combat obesity.


In it we reference the work Oxford researchers that a 20% tax on sugary drinks would prevent 180,000 people from becoming obese within one year in Britain.


Simon Stevens then took the right and bold step to call for a sugar tax to be introduced into NHS hospitals.


For years spokespeople for the food and soft drinks companies have defended arguments calling for the regulation of sugar by saying we shouldn’t be singling out one “nutrient” when it comes to tackling Obesity. This was again repeated by the corporate affairs director of the Food and Drinks Federation in a debate I had with him on Channel 4 News last week. I pointed out that sugar has no nutritional value, has no biological requirement and therefore cannot be a “nutrient.”


You can see the full debate here:


Channel 4 News and Dr Aseem Malhotra



Just to be clear the definition of nutrient is  “a substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth”


The following day I was invited to take part in a discussion on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 but this time the director general of the British Soft drinks association, Gavin Partington didn’t refer to sugar as a “nutrient” but an “ingredient.”


That’s exactly what sugar is. It’s an ingredient and NOT a nutrient. Well done Gavin.

That’s what I call progress.