Brighton & Hove’s #SugarSmartCity Campaign Tackles Sugar

by Gabrielle Khalife
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name: #SugarSmartCity Campaign


Brighton & Hove City

Population: 285K (ONS UK, 2015)

Overview: In October 2015, Brighton & Hove launched its #SugarSmartCity campaign and became the first UK city to tackle sugar on a city-wide scale. Through a dedicated webpage, social media and events, the campaign aims to reduce obesity rates and related diseases, and improve dental health by raising awareness about the harmful effects caused by the overconsumption of sugar. The campaign takes a multi-disciplinary approach by looking at what can be done at home, in the workplace, in schools and in shops, restaurants, cafes and takeaways.  

Progress to date: Between October 1, 2015, and November 30, 2015, Sugar Smart engaged citizens in a debate in order to determine whether any action should be taken towards reducing sugar intake, and, if so, where efforts should be focused.

Between December 2015 and March 2016, Sugar Smart engaged 30 primary schools city-wide in educating children about the harmful effects high sugar consumption has on health and how to partake in a healthier lifestyle. The city also worked with 150 food outlets that have made Sugar Smart commitments to promote free drinking water, alter recipes to contain less sugar, reduce soft drink portion sizes and use prices and promotions to influence healthier choices.

Currently, Sugar Smart is working on bringing its campaign to hospitals, secondary schools, colleges and universities city-wide.

Program/Policy Initiated: October 1, 2015

Food policy category: Diet & Nutrition

Program goals:

  • Increase awareness of sugar content, particularly hidden sugars in everyday food and beverages, and ways people can modify their intake  
  • Engage local schools, food outlets, retailers and others in sugar reduction  
  • Obtain views on where and how, action should be taken among the general population, in schools and at food outlets  
  • Engage residents and outlets in the conversation about a sugar tax

How it works:

Sugar Smart is a joint initiative of the Brighton & Hove City Council working with Food Partnership and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation that aims to reduce sugar intake across all ages, with the hope of improving the number of people in the city with a healthy weight, better dental health and fewer diet-related illnesses and diseases. Sugar Smart does this by: (1) raising awareness, (2) increasing skills and knowledge and (3) changing the environment to support healthier choices.

The first stage of Sugar Smart was a city-wide debate to find out whether Brighton & Hove residents thought action should be taken to reduce sugar intake and, if so, where those efforts should be focused. Mixed methods were used to engage people in the debate, including an online survey, a shorter postcard survey, focus groups, targeted events and media and social media campaigns. Between October 1 and November 30, 2015, more than 1,300 residents took part in the surveys, focus groups and events. More than 130 food outlets and 20 schools contributed, and the debate received significant media and social media coverage. The results suggested that residents would like more information and practical support to identify healthier options.

-More than 80 percent of people agreed the City should do more to help residents reduce their sugar intake.

-Almost 90 percent agreed that food outlets should do more to promote healthier options.

-80 percent agreed that secondary schools should act to reduce sugary drink intake among students.

Based on the results from the debate, the second stage of Sugar Smart was a city-wide campaign to bring public awareness about the sugar content of food and beverage products and educate residents about the negative impact high sugar intake has on health outcomes.

Sugar Smart utilizes a comprehensive strategy, providing information, resources and guidance, and how to promote a healthier food and beverage environment at the individual, school, workplace and food industry level.

  • Home: Sugar Smart offers dietary guidelines for how much sugar should be consumed by adults and children, how to read food labels for sugar content, and potential food and beverage swaps consumers can make to engage in a healthier lifestyle. The free Change4Life Sugar Smart app is also available to help guide consumers by providing free support, tips, ideas and healthy recipes.  
  • Businesses: Sugar Smart provides businesses with the tools and resources they need to get involved in the campaign by showing that a healthy workplace is essential not only for employees’ health and wellbeing, but also makes good business sense because a healthy workforce leads to improved morale, reduced sickness and increased productivity. Their methods include (1) educating staff by displaying posters around the workplace or near vending machines, offering a Sugar Smart challenge, sharing Sugar Smart recipes, or setting up a Ministry of Food course (an evidence-based public health intervention that teaches necessary cooking skills and equips participants with how to make healthy recipes), and (2) changing the overall environment by making free water easily accessible and implementing healthy vending guidelines.
  • Cafes and restaurants: Food outlets, such as cafes, restaurants, takeaways and those in leisure facilities and hospitals, are encouraged to make Sugar Smart commitments, including the promotion of tap water, changing recipes, posting sugary content information, promoting healthier options and adopting a sugar tax. Notable participants in the campaign include:
    • The University of Brighton, which is leading the way by being the first university in the country to introduce a sugar tax across their campuses with any funds raised supporting cooking lessons and food education for their students
    • Eden Foodservice, the city’s primary school caterer, which has reduced sugar in their desserts by 40 percent by changing recipes and removing drizzles and icings

Jamie Oliver also launched a campaign with his SUGAR RUSH documentary, announcing  that he was introducing a 10 percent tax on all soft drinks with added sugar sold at his UK restaurants and was calling on other outlets to join him. Money raised by the tax will go to the Children’s Health Fund, supporting children’s food education programs.

  • Schools: Activities such as assemblies, challenges and workshops are offered to primary schools in the city, and schools are encouraged to adopt a Sugar Smart snack policy. Information events focusing on sugary drinks are delivered in secondary schools, colleges and universities.
    • Sugar Smart assemblies are provided to primary school students to teach them where sugar lurks, why they should cut back and how. The Sugar Smart Assembly resource is readily available for schools to teach students how to become Sugar Smart.
    • The Sugar Smart Challenge: Students are challenged to drink only water and milk at their main meal every day for a week. Prizes include goodie bags, meal vouchers for Healthy Choice restaurants, shopping vouchers, and movie and event tickets. A complimentary family meal at Jamie’s Italian Brighton with a value of up to £80 is also up for grabs.
    • Kitchen Garden Project: Free membership is offered to all Brighton & Hove Primary Schools. Kitchen Garden Project gives schools access to hundreds of recipes written for children, lesson plans, curriculum-linked activities, videos and other supporting materials to help teachers bring cooking and growing food into the school day.
    • School Meals: Brighton & Hove City Council’s School Meals team is working to reduce the sugar content of food and beverages offered in primary schools and ensure that schools are compliant with national School Food Standards. Sugar Smart is also supporting schools to implement a Healthy Packed Lunch and Snack Policy.

Why it is important:

The #SugarSmartCity campaign takes a comprehensive approach utilizing a socio-ecological model (targeting individual, community and societal levels) to mitigate diet-related chronic illnesses associated with high sugar consumption. The campaign notably does not differentiate between sugar found in food items and in beverages. Further, the campaign does not ban sugar but rather brings public awareness to the fact that reducing sugar consumption can have a beneficial impact on health outcomes, especially if paired with regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet.

In Brighton & Hove, one in four children is overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, while nationally in the UK people are eating three times as much sugar as they should. Further, in 2012-2913 more than 300 children in Brighton & Hove were admitted to the hospital to have multiple teeth extracted while under  general anaesthesia, and treating diet-related diseases costs the National Health Service in Brighton & Hove £80 million per year, demonstrating an economic burden.

Evaluation: Brighton & Hove City Council is responsible for the evaluation of the #SugarSmartCity campaign. See infographic for what Sugar Smart has done in the city so far.

Learn more:

Point of Contact:

C/o Sustain, The Green House

244-254 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9DA

T: 0203 5596 777


Similar practices: The Healthy Beverage Zone seeks to create an environment in the workplace that promotes healthy beverage options in an effort to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and prevent obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases among those who work, live in and visit the Bronx. Read more.


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