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Public health chief defends refusal to publish sugar report

The head of the Government’s public health advisory body has defended his refusal to publish a review of the evidence on sugar reduction policies, despite coming under a barrage of criticism for his decision from MPs.

Under cross-examination by members of the Commons health committee, chief executive of Public Health England (PHE) Duncan Selbie insisted that publishing the report – a meta-analysis of approaches such as taxing sugary drinks – could undermine the Government’s obesity strategy when it is published later in the year.

It comes after the Telegraph reported it had seen correspondence in which health committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston accused the PHE leader of bowing to pressure from ministers not to publish the report.

During today’s committee hearing, Dr Wollaston repeatedly asked Mr Selbie to reconsider his earlier decision to allow MPs and the ‘wider health community’ to scrutinise the evidence review.

Dr Wollaston said: ‘That evidence review has been paid for by the public, the public and the wider health community would like to see it… and we’re formally asking you again, could we see a copy of that evidence review and if not what would be the harm in so doing?’

But Mr Selbie said he could not break a commitment to health secretary Jeremy Hunt not to publish the report until the Government is ready to announce the strategy.

Mr Selbie said: ‘I regret to say again I’ve given that package in advance to the secretary of state, I’ve reached an agreement with him that we will publish at the same time.’

Mr Selbie told Pulse last month that PHE’s evidence does not support the call from some public health experts to introduce a sugar tax, preferring options based around ‘food reformulation’.

Readers' comments (8)

  • He has not defended the decision, merely said that it was what he had promised Hunt.
    He should not have made that promise in the first place.
    How can he claim to be independent?

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  • '..until the Government is ready to announce the strategy.'

    And who will they have consulted on the strategy?
    Business leaders and health advisors with links to government who are completing their gong appraisal folder in time for a new round of awards!

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  • Thank you Dr Wollaston for pursuing this. Mr Selbie has made a disgraceful decision that shows contempt for both the public and health professionals.

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  • Could the food lobby have influence over the government perchance!

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  • Defends the indefensible.

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  • Alice Hodkinson

    20% tax on all products with added sugar, or natural sugar above (say) 5%. Plough the money into cheaper fruit and veg, particularly veg.
    Middle class benefit and tax on the the disadvantaged? A bit like taxing cigarettes.
    It would save us a lot of bother with diabetic education.....
    (Discuss)

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  • He sold his soul to the evil emperor hunt - in exchange for his promotion to the job, so is essentially his lap dog.

    Never going to bite the hand that feeds him sugar!

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  • Marketing trumps medicine. Politics of profit far more important than "Public Health"!

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