How to end the sugar debate: stop pointing fingers and play nice
How to end the sugar debate: stop pointing fingers and play nice
A view from Nina Aggarwal

How to end the sugar debate: stop pointing fingers and play nice

With the government facing claims that it's shelved research into the impact on sugar on obesity, Nina Aggarwal, co-founder and partner at Fusion Learning, calls...

The Sugar debate has officially hit fever pitch. In the last week alone we have seen:

  • Government health officials go to war with Coca Cola over who is best placed to do research on the UK’s obesity crisis.
  • Heard Jamie Oliver taking David Cameron to task on ‘not doing enough’ to cut childhood obesity.
  • Read that government ministers have shelved studies that claim taxing sugar would undoubtedly curb the country’s obesity crisis.

It seems we have the perfect storm. Yet no-one is really taking responsibility for it.

However, there is a solution...

Here’s a thought: how about we work together? A preposterous notion I know, one which many will gasp at because of the simplicity of it. But actually isn’t collaboration the best route to true innovation? Innovation is sorely missing from the sector, despite us all knowing that innovation will not just benefit brands, but consumers and even the wider health industry at large.  

Yes, brands have a commercial business agenda; but so does the government – to keep the NHS running and improve the lives of the public

Everyone has a responsibility to lower the public’s sugar consumption - including the public. However, the public need educating and it’s down to industry experts to club together to do something about this.  It is well known that large companies swallow smaller innovative ones to capitalise on their resources and develop products; but in this instance, instead of cannibalising each other, collaboration is arguably a more effective way to cover ground and get vital research and data that will drive improvement and change.

Divide and conquer...

If government and health specialists can work directly with brands to ensure they toe the line in an acceptable way, they could spend their time and recourses on studies that tap into the wider health issues, such as how to make the NHS sustainable and save money on equipment and staff. Indeed, brands and corporations, if given the correct parameters to work in, can support research into new safe healthy ingredients, recipes, eating habits and long lasting behavioural changes that can affect the way the public consumes and buys products.

This debate reminds me of when I worked with Always to develop an educational programme about puberty. The programme supported education in schools, which is now readily taught in PHSE lessons.  It was hotly debated on whether it was appropriate for brands like Always to provide educational material to resource stretched schools, but despite this, we worked very closely with healthcare professionals and education specialists to get the content correct and the balance of brand presence to an acceptable level. It was a revolutionary move and one that genuinely helped make a difference in educating girls and boys (who are obviously not the target market for Always, but were given a tailored pack of educational materials none the less).

The government's commercial agenda

Although there was of course a commercial objective driving P&G, the brand also managed to innovate and create breakthrough technology to help improve the lives of girls and women forever - no more ‘Dr Whites type’ 5cm thick pads.

Yes, brands have a commercial business agenda; but so does the government – to keep the NHS running and improve the lives of the public. However, you can achieve commercial business success and benefit the consumer at the same time. My advice is to lay down your weapons and work as a team. Striving for the greater good not only makes great business sense, it is the only way to drive real change forward; and the responsibility lies at all of our doors.