Sugar: What next?

Ipsos is today releasing a review of the public and legislators’ attitudes towards sugar, and its future control.

MPs think that manufacturers changing their recipes would be the most effective way to reduce sugar consumption

Ipsos is today releasing a review of the public and legislators’ attitudes towards sugar, and its future control.  Reducing the amount of sugar people eat has become a key focus for actions to reduce obesity – and this is reflected in a survey of 100 MPs released with the report.

The top thing MPs say will reduce sugar consumption is manufacturers changing the sugar content of products:  66% of MPs say this would be most effective, around twice as many as pick out other options, such as introducing further taxes (34%), nutritional labelling (31%) and supermarkets placing low sugar products more prominently (26%). 

And this support for reformulation cuts across party lines – both Conservative and Labour MPs are equally in favour.

However, when asked what they personally would support there is a drop in MPs picking out changing the ingredients of products.  It is still the top answer, but it is down to 46% of MPs, with most of the drop being among Conservative MPs (only 33% say they would support this, compared with 62% of Labour MPs).  This may reflect concerns among legislators that reformulating products is not always as easy as it seems, or that they don’t wish to interfere in product decisions in private companies.

MPs are not saying that individuals have no responsibility for their own healthy eating.  In fact, they are most likely to agree that individuals should be doing more to help themselves, more so than government, retailers and supermarkets should be doing more – although clear majorities agree that all could do more.  Labour MPs are particularly likely to put the emphasis on government and manufacturers, and less on individuals.

However, with only 17% of people globally able to accurately estimate the amount of sugar in a can of soft drink, are the public best placed to do so or is it the responsibility of government policy makers, retailers and manufactures?

Pippa Bailey, Director, Ipsos, says:

Obesity is the third greatest social burden driven by human beings, after smoking and war, violence and terrorism.  And while sugar consumption is far from the only cause of this, it is increasingly in the spotlight.
A global drive to reduce sugar consumption is therefore not just here to stay, it’s gaining momentum. Attitudes among both consumers and legislators suggest that producers and retailers who resist the need for change seem likely to get little support from either group. In this climate, it is essential for the industry to continue to keep ahead of the direction of travel and work collaboratively with government to have a proactive say in its own future.
This paper has revealed that industry knowledge of how consumers think about sugar generally and how this then drives action has some significant gaps. Which intervention methods have the greatest health-return on time and investments are also not always clear. Although MPs in the UK clearly back reformulation of products, this is not a silver bullet. A mixed intervention approach is needed to drive positive consumer choices in the future and an intervention framework set out in this paper offers the foundation to start prioritising different initiatives. The next step is for the industry to engage in proactive research – not just to address critical knowledge gaps around consumer behaviour, but also to test these behavioural interventions in different settings.

Find out more about our MPs' survey which explores the opinions of this key group of influencers. 


Technical note

  • Fieldwork dates: 31 October – 21 December 2016.
  • 149 MPs were interviewed in total, with the questionnaire versioned so that around 100 MPs answered each client section (50 Conservatives, 40 Labour, 6 SNP and 4 from other parties).
  • An initial sample of 440 MPs were contacted to ensure that those interviewed closely represent the profile of the House of Commons.
  • All interviews were conducted face-to-face.
  • The total sample interviewed is closely representative of the House. Based on those asked each question, data have been individually weighted where necessary to reflect the true balance by party.
  • Sometimes the percentage result for “Total MPs” may be greater than the sum of the percentage results for Conservative and Labour MPs, as it also includes results from other parties. Where results do not sum to 100%, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don’t know” categories.
  • All answers are in % format. Data is weighted.

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