Tag Archives: Hinsliff

The NHS is underfunded. Even a former Tory health secretary sees it | Gaby Hinsliff

The former Conservative health secretary was diagnosed with bowel cancer after his wife nagged him into seeing his GP about his back pain. While his prospects would have been better if it had been caught earlier, things could be worse. He is still fairly optimistic about recovering, and he isn’t asking for your sympathy – although it was classy of the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, to offer Labour’s anyway.

What he does seem to want, however, is for his own party to acknowledge that lucky isn’t good enough, either for him or for the millions of over-55s in England and Wales supposed to benefit from a national screening programme to detect and treat bowel cancer early. This was something Lansley himself piloted in office, before finding out the hard way that it hasn’t been delivered as planned.

About half the population did get access to testing, which can pick up and treat the disease in its earliest, highly survivable stage, and Scotland has introduced routine screening for the over-50s. But for the other half, things aren’t so rosy. Crucially, Lansley blames that not just on IT failings and a shortage of endoscopists but, at least in part, on Treasury cuts (since reversed) to a body overseeing NHS workforce development.

When a former Conservative health secretary is diagnosing the NHS’s problems in these terms, it’s no longer possible for his own party to ignore the perennial elephant in the room: money.

There is an emerging consensus across politics now that the health service can’t patch things together for much longer – that neither a bafflingly technocratic reorganisation (Lansley’s own rather dubious contribution to the health service), nor shielding its budget from the austerity cuts imposed on other departments, was enough to solve its problems. Put bluntly, it needs more cash – which is why Jeremy Hunt, Lansley’s successor at the Department of Health, has recently reopened the debate over the funding of long-term care.

But the time for tiptoeing tactfully around the fringes of this argument is over. Everyone needs to stop pretending that Britons can have all the healthcare they want at no extra cost, and to start making the case for tax rises before the service falls even further behind public expectations.

For Lansley’s story also hints at a wider debate about preventive medicine more generally, and what it’s reasonable for all of us to expect. As the healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund has tirelessly pointed out, the biggest pressure on health spending in recent times hasn’t actually been an ageing population but technological leaps and bounds: things becoming possible that a decade or two ago couldn’t even have been imagined, but which it now seems unethical to withhold.

Screening isn’t always the panacea people think. There are careful judgments to be made about the benefits of catching something early versus the risks of over-treatment – pushing people into radical surgery when it’s not yet clear how aggressive their particular case will turn out to be, for example – or of false positive results clogging up NHS clinics with people who aren’t actually ill. There are ethical considerations with some diseases, too, about telling people they’re in the early stages of something incurable.

But once a test exists people, not unreasonably, want to have it; and once they’re promised it – as people were in the case of bowel cancer – they rightly expect politicians to deliver on those promises. Screening and treating early, before cancer gets a chance to spread, has the capacity to save not just thousands of lives but millions of pounds, which could in turn be used to save more lives. But it’s downright dishonest to pretend all of that can be done for little or no upfront cost in a service that’s already struggling to cope with acute cases landing on its doorstep, never mind people who don’t actually realise yet that they are sick. History may not make much of his achievements in the job, but Lansley has done the NHS and those who use it a belated favour by being honest about what now ails it. Let’s hope that diagnosis hasn’t come too late.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

The NHS is underfunded. Even a former Tory health secretary sees it | Gaby Hinsliff

The former Conservative health secretary was diagnosed with bowel cancer after his wife nagged him into seeing his GP about his back pain. While his prospects would have been better if it had been caught earlier, things could be worse. He is still fairly optimistic about recovering, and he isn’t asking for your sympathy – although it was classy of the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, to offer Labour’s anyway.

What he does seem to want, however, is for his own party to acknowledge that lucky isn’t good enough, either for him or for the millions of over-55s in England and Wales supposed to benefit from a national screening programme to detect and treat bowel cancer early. This was something Lansley himself piloted in office, before finding out the hard way that it hasn’t been delivered as planned.

About half the population did get access to testing, which can pick up and treat the disease in its earliest, highly survivable stage, and Scotland has introduced routine screening for the over-50s. But for the other half, things aren’t so rosy. Crucially, Lansley blames that not just on IT failings and a shortage of endoscopists but, at least in part, on Treasury cuts (since reversed) to a body overseeing NHS workforce development.

When a former Conservative health secretary is diagnosing the NHS’s problems in these terms, it’s no longer possible for his own party to ignore the perennial elephant in the room: money.

There is an emerging consensus across politics now that the health service can’t patch things together for much longer – that neither a bafflingly technocratic reorganisation (Lansley’s own rather dubious contribution to the health service), nor shielding its budget from the austerity cuts imposed on other departments, was enough to solve its problems. Put bluntly, it needs more cash – which is why Jeremy Hunt, Lansley’s successor at the Department of Health, has recently reopened the debate over the funding of long-term care.

But the time for tiptoeing tactfully around the fringes of this argument is over. Everyone needs to stop pretending that Britons can have all the healthcare they want at no extra cost, and to start making the case for tax rises before the service falls even further behind public expectations.

For Lansley’s story also hints at a wider debate about preventive medicine more generally, and what it’s reasonable for all of us to expect. As the healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund has tirelessly pointed out, the biggest pressure on health spending in recent times hasn’t actually been an ageing population but technological leaps and bounds: things becoming possible that a decade or two ago couldn’t even have been imagined, but which it now seems unethical to withhold.

Screening isn’t always the panacea people think. There are careful judgments to be made about the benefits of catching something early versus the risks of over-treatment – pushing people into radical surgery when it’s not yet clear how aggressive their particular case will turn out to be, for example – or of false positive results clogging up NHS clinics with people who aren’t actually ill. There are ethical considerations with some diseases, too, about telling people they’re in the early stages of something incurable.

But once a test exists people, not unreasonably, want to have it; and once they’re promised it – as people were in the case of bowel cancer – they rightly expect politicians to deliver on those promises. Screening and treating early, before cancer gets a chance to spread, has the capacity to save not just thousands of lives but millions of pounds, which could in turn be used to save more lives. But it’s downright dishonest to pretend all of that can be done for little or no upfront cost in a service that’s already struggling to cope with acute cases landing on its doorstep, never mind people who don’t actually realise yet that they are sick. History may not make much of his achievements in the job, but Lansley has done the NHS and those who use it a belated favour by being honest about what now ails it. Let’s hope that diagnosis hasn’t come too late.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

The NHS is underfunded. Even a former Tory health secretary sees it | Gaby Hinsliff

The former Conservative health secretary was diagnosed with bowel cancer after his wife nagged him into seeing his GP about his back pain. While his prospects would have been better if it had been caught earlier, things could be worse. He is still fairly optimistic about recovering, and he isn’t asking for your sympathy – although it was classy of the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, to offer Labour’s anyway.

What he does seem to want, however, is for his own party to acknowledge that lucky isn’t good enough, either for him or for the millions of over-55s in England and Wales supposed to benefit from a national screening programme to detect and treat bowel cancer early. This was something Lansley himself piloted in office, before finding out the hard way that it hasn’t been delivered as planned.

About half the population did get access to testing, which can pick up and treat the disease in its earliest, highly survivable stage, and Scotland has introduced routine screening for the over-50s. But for the other half, things aren’t so rosy. Crucially, Lansley blames that not just on IT failings and a shortage of endoscopists but, at least in part, on Treasury cuts (since reversed) to a body overseeing NHS workforce development.

When a former Conservative health secretary is diagnosing the NHS’s problems in these terms, it’s no longer possible for his own party to ignore the perennial elephant in the room: money.

There is an emerging consensus across politics now that the health service can’t patch things together for much longer – that neither a bafflingly technocratic reorganisation (Lansley’s own rather dubious contribution to the health service), nor shielding its budget from the austerity cuts imposed on other departments, was enough to solve its problems. Put bluntly, it needs more cash – which is why Jeremy Hunt, Lansley’s successor at the Department of Health, has recently reopened the debate over the funding of long-term care.

But the time for tiptoeing tactfully around the fringes of this argument is over. Everyone needs to stop pretending that Britons can have all the healthcare they want at no extra cost, and to start making the case for tax rises before the service falls even further behind public expectations.

For Lansley’s story also hints at a wider debate about preventive medicine more generally, and what it’s reasonable for all of us to expect. As the healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund has tirelessly pointed out, the biggest pressure on health spending in recent times hasn’t actually been an ageing population but technological leaps and bounds: things becoming possible that a decade or two ago couldn’t even have been imagined, but which it now seems unethical to withhold.

Screening isn’t always the panacea people think. There are careful judgments to be made about the benefits of catching something early versus the risks of over-treatment – pushing people into radical surgery when it’s not yet clear how aggressive their particular case will turn out to be, for example – or of false positive results clogging up NHS clinics with people who aren’t actually ill. There are ethical considerations with some diseases, too, about telling people they’re in the early stages of something incurable.

But once a test exists people, not unreasonably, want to have it; and once they’re promised it – as people were in the case of bowel cancer – they rightly expect politicians to deliver on those promises. Screening and treating early, before cancer gets a chance to spread, has the capacity to save not just thousands of lives but millions of pounds, which could in turn be used to save more lives. But it’s downright dishonest to pretend all of that can be done for little or no upfront cost in a service that’s already struggling to cope with acute cases landing on its doorstep, never mind people who don’t actually realise yet that they are sick. History may not make much of his achievements in the job, but Lansley has done the NHS and those who use it a belated favour by being honest about what now ails it. Let’s hope that diagnosis hasn’t come too late.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

The NHS is underfunded. Even a former Tory health secretary sees it | Gaby Hinsliff

The former Conservative health secretary was diagnosed with bowel cancer after his wife nagged him into seeing his GP about his back pain. While his prospects would have been better if it had been caught earlier, things could be worse. He is still fairly optimistic about recovering, and he isn’t asking for your sympathy – although it was classy of the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, to offer Labour’s anyway.

What he does seem to want, however, is for his own party to acknowledge that lucky isn’t good enough, either for him or for the millions of over-55s in England and Wales supposed to benefit from a national screening programme to detect and treat bowel cancer early. This was something Lansley himself piloted in office, before finding out the hard way that it hasn’t been delivered as planned.

About half the population did get access to testing, which can pick up and treat the disease in its earliest, highly survivable stage, and Scotland has introduced routine screening for the over-50s. But for the other half, things aren’t so rosy. Crucially, Lansley blames that not just on IT failings and a shortage of endoscopists but, at least in part, on Treasury cuts (since reversed) to a body overseeing NHS workforce development.

When a former Conservative health secretary is diagnosing the NHS’s problems in these terms, it’s no longer possible for his own party to ignore the perennial elephant in the room: money.

There is an emerging consensus across politics now that the health service can’t patch things together for much longer – that neither a bafflingly technocratic reorganisation (Lansley’s own rather dubious contribution to the health service), nor shielding its budget from the austerity cuts imposed on other departments, was enough to solve its problems. Put bluntly, it needs more cash – which is why Jeremy Hunt, Lansley’s successor at the Department of Health, has recently reopened the debate over the funding of long-term care.

But the time for tiptoeing tactfully around the fringes of this argument is over. Everyone needs to stop pretending that Britons can have all the healthcare they want at no extra cost, and to start making the case for tax rises before the service falls even further behind public expectations.

For Lansley’s story also hints at a wider debate about preventive medicine more generally, and what it’s reasonable for all of us to expect. As the healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund has tirelessly pointed out, the biggest pressure on health spending in recent times hasn’t actually been an ageing population but technological leaps and bounds: things becoming possible that a decade or two ago couldn’t even have been imagined, but which it now seems unethical to withhold.

Screening isn’t always the panacea people think. There are careful judgments to be made about the benefits of catching something early versus the risks of over-treatment – pushing people into radical surgery when it’s not yet clear how aggressive their particular case will turn out to be, for example – or of false positive results clogging up NHS clinics with people who aren’t actually ill. There are ethical considerations with some diseases, too, about telling people they’re in the early stages of something incurable.

But once a test exists people, not unreasonably, want to have it; and once they’re promised it – as people were in the case of bowel cancer – they rightly expect politicians to deliver on those promises. Screening and treating early, before cancer gets a chance to spread, has the capacity to save not just thousands of lives but millions of pounds, which could in turn be used to save more lives. But it’s downright dishonest to pretend all of that can be done for little or no upfront cost in a service that’s already struggling to cope with acute cases landing on its doorstep, never mind people who don’t actually realise yet that they are sick. History may not make much of his achievements in the job, but Lansley has done the NHS and those who use it a belated favour by being honest about what now ails it. Let’s hope that diagnosis hasn’t come too late.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?