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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’.