HC 1048-III Health CommitteeWritten evidence from Ajinomoto (PH 97)

Executive Summary

Levels of obesity continue to rise at an alarming rate. The health challenge posed by obesity to UK society and the NHS is enormous, not least in financial terms.

Coalition Government action on obesity until now has been very restricted; the Public Health Outcomes Framework, which partially focuses on obesity, is too limited to help bring obesity rates down.

Government has also yet to publish its long-awaited obesity strategy and, though Government has retained the Change4Life brand, it has significantly reduced spending on its marketing. This is despite its own figures showing that the number of people joining Change4Life dropped by 80% when it halted spending on marketing following last year’s general election.

Ajinomoto believes that the Government does not have to spend vast sums of money on tackling obesity. Small but significant steps can help to tackle the growing obesity rate. The single most effective move that Government could take to improve public health, at no cost to the Exchequer and with no need for regulation, is to issue clear and consistent messages that consumers who want to choose a sweetened beverage, should consider choosing a low-calorie option.

We encourage a renewed sense of urgency on the part of the Government and call on it to bring forward its obesity plans as soon as possible. In this, we hope that the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into public health will be of some assistance.


1. Ajinomoto is the global leader in the science, manufacture and marketing of amino acids, nucleotides, and amino acid based ingredients, including the low-calorie sweetener AminoSweet aspartame. Our ingredients are used widely by the food and beverage industry throughout the world, to produce healthy products which are popular with consumers.

2. AminoSweet is the brand name for aspartame produced by Ajinomoto. The name was chosen to underline the fact that this low-calorie sweetener is made from two amino acids, which together result in a sweetener which tastes like sugar but is two hundred times sweeter. Being made from amino acids, the building blocks of protein which are found in many foods including meat, fish, eggs and milk, Aspartame brings nothing new to the diet and is treated by the body in exactly the same way as other foods in a person’s diet.

3. Ajinomoto would like to thank the House of Commons Health Select Committee for allowing us to make a brief contribution to their inquiry into public health. Ajinomoto’s contribution will focus on tackling obesity.

Obesity and Sugar Intake

4. Obesity levels continue to rise in England; in 2008, 66% of men and 57% of women were either overweight or obese, with 24% of all adults obese. Obesity is a risk factor associated with serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Foresight has noted that the financial cost of obesity to society and business is predicted to rise to £45.5 billion per year by 2050, in addition to a sevenfold increase in NHS costs to £6.5 billion each year.

5. There are a number of causes of obesity but it is now widely accepted that the diet of the average British adult contains too much added sugar, and that the largest single source of added sugar in the average child’s diet, especially amongst children from a lower income background, is soft drinks.

Food and Drink Industry Response to Growing Obesity Rates

6. The most effective means of reducing sugar consumption from beverages and other foods is to encourage the substitution of full-sugar variants by their sugar-free counterparts, as part of a balanced diet. The food and drink industry has therefore taken the responsibility for developing low and no added sugar varieties, making a significant difference to calorie intake. Some beverage brands have even reduced the added sugar to zero and the calorie content from more than 100Cal/250ml to less than 1Cal/250ml.

Sugar Substitution and Effectiveness of Helping in Weight Control

7. Sweet taste is innate and universal. Even a small level of sweetness reduction is discernable by most people and can result in reduced preference and consumption levels.

8. Because low-calorie alternatives taste as good as sugar sweetened beverages, these products have increased in sale. In addition, the success of foods and drinks sweetened with aspartame is explained by the fact that this particular low-calorie sweetener tastes most like sugar. Foods and drinks in which the sugar has been substituted with aspartame, including tea and coffee, are therefore able to deliver products which taste just as good as their sugar-sweetened alternative, but with fewer calories.

9. Meta-analyses shows that if individuals make this swap, and replace sugar-sweetened foods and drinks with their low-calorie alternative using aspartame, they can reduce their weight without any loss of palatability. Given the ease with which such sugar substitution can take place in a wide variety of food and particularly drinks, the potential impact for weight management is significant.

Response to the Health Select Committee

The structure and purpose of the Public Health Outcomes Framework

10. Ajinomoto welcomes the purpose of the Public Health Outcomes Framework, which is rightly designed to allow individuals to judge the success, or otherwise, of particular areas in tackling public health problems.

11. Despite the positive purpose of this Framework however, Ajinomoto has concerns that it is not detailed or thorough enough to enable proper comparison of outcomes. On the specific subject of obesity, the Outcomes Framework chooses to measure only the prevalence of healthy weight in a particular area: instead, it should be measuring how an area reduces its obesity rate .Through measuring this outcome, the Framework could help to highlight those areas in which innovative approaches to tackling obesity are producing results.


13. It is difficult to comment on the Government’s proposals for combating obesity, a key public health problem that needs tackling soon to prevent the NHS being burdened with the sort of costs outlined in 2007’s Foresight report.

14. This is because the Government did not address the subject at any great length in December 2010’s Public Health White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People. Although promised a separate obesity strategy in the spring of this year, at the time of writing such a strategy had not been published (though strategies for tackling smoking and alcohol abuse have been released).

15. The Government has recently published its revised social marketing strategy and committed itself to continuing with the Change4Life brand, which Ajinomoto welcomes. However, the viability of Change4Life as a tool to tackle obesity may have been damaged by the Government’s withdrawal of funding for social marketing as it undertook a review into its strategy. The Government’s own figures show that, following this funding cut, the numbers of people signing up for Change4Life fell by 80%.

16. The Government does not necessarily have to spend large amounts of money in tackling obesity. Small steps, such as the provision of consistent messaging encouraging people to choose low or no added sugar alternatives to their sugar sweetened products, can be undertaken at no cost to the Exchequer.

17. What is clear is that Government needs to rapidly progress with the development of the sort of comprehensive strategy needed to tackle such a significant public health problem as obesity. This is increasingly urgent; the proportion of overweight and obese people in this country continues to climb upwards yet the Government is not taking the required action. Such coordinated action at national level in turn has the potential to significantly reduce the costs associated with the treatment of obesity related diseases.

18. The Government’s actions on public health have, until now, been limited and we hope that this inquiry will encourage them to do more.

June 2011

Prepared 28th November 2011