‘Sugar smart’ Greenwich Council’s flagship sports centre flouting sugar tax

Sutcliffe Park leisure centre cafe
Red alert: The council centre’s cafe sells sugary Coke without the extra tax

Greenwich Council’s new flagship leisure centre is selling sugary soft drinks without the new sugar tax applied – while it is urging local football clubs to “kick out junk food”.

Children using the new Sutcliffe Park Sports Centre in Eltham can buy a 500ml classic Coca-Cola – containing 53g, over 10.5 teaspoonfuls, of sugar – for £1.20, the same price as its diet equivalent.

If the government’s new sugar tax was applied to the classic drink, it would cost 9p more than a Diet Coke. In Co-op stores, a 500ml Coca-Cola costs £1.54, while sugar-free versions are £1.35.

High sugar intake is linked with childhood obesity – and 27.8% of 10/11-year-olds in Greenwich are classified as obese, according to Public Health England statistics – the third highest in London and far higher than neighbouring Bexley (24%), Lewisham (23.6%) and Bromley (17.6%).

And 42.7% of six-year-olds in Greenwich are overweight – the fifth highest in London.

Sutcliffe Park leisure centre
Chocs away: The borough’s podgy kids can pig out on ice cream too

The centre opened in January, a month after councillors backed a motion declaring it would support the Sugar Smart Greenwich campaign and promote a sugar levy on soft drinks.

And on Wednesday, the council issued a press release supporting a campaign for football clubs to drop sponsorship from junk food brands – a release reprinted in a Sutton-based former local newspaper, the News Shopper, which is now receiving BBC funding to subsidise its reporting.

Greenwich public health director Steve Whiteman said in the release: “By continuing to sign sponsorship deals from junk food brands, football associations, leagues and clubs are doing impressionable young fans a disservice.

“The Council has pledged to remove sugary drinks from vending machines and review sponsorship from companies which promote unhealthy food and drink and there’s no reason why clubs can’t follow in our footsteps. By making it more convenient to choose food and drink which is low in sugar, fat and salt, together we can help drive down obesity.”

But SE London’s two league sides, Charlton Athletic and Millwall, have both charged more for sugary soft drinks for some time – something the council has yet to do in its own sports facilities.

The Sutcliffe Park issue first came to light on Wednesday, when it was raised by Eltham magazine SE Nine on its Facebook page.

Sutcliffe Park leisure centre
The leisure centre opened in January, a month after councillors pledged to become a “sugar smart” borough

Like all council leisure centres in Greenwich borough, it is run by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which also operates facilities in other boroughs across the capital and beyond.

While a separately-run body, three councillors from Greenwich’s ruling Labour group are directors. They are cabinet member Jackie Smith (Woolwich Riverside), ceremonial mayor Peter Brooks (Glyndon) and backbencher Linda Bird (Eltham North). All three backed the Sugar Smart Greenwich motion.

853 understands that the catering at the council’s other leisure centre in Eltham – the Eltham Centre – is run by its commercial subsidiary, GS Plus, which has withdrawn sugary snacks from sale.

Greenwich Council did not respond to a request for comment from 853.

A Greenwich Leisure Limited spokesperson said: “GLL is committed to the reduction of sugar across its Better Coffee Corner product line – replacing many traditional snacks and beverages with healthier alternatives. Accordingly, the product offering at Sutcliffe Park Sports Centre is currently under review.

“As the operator of ‘Better’ leisure facilities throughout the borough – in partnership with Royal Borough of Greenwich, GLL has committed to the Sugar Smart initiative and is currently taking steps to remove adverts for products high in sugar wherever possible, instead promoting Sugar Smart messages throughout centres by providing workshops and displays about the sugar content of drinks.

“In addition, steps are also being taken to reduce the number of sugary drinks in our vending machines, in favour of alternatives containing significantly less calories and sugar.”

Monday update: Greenwich Council cabinet member for public health David Gardner told 853: “The operator of the sports centre, GLL/Better like Greenwich Council as the owner, is totally committed to SugarSmart and support the London Declaration on Healthier Food and Sugar Reduction.

“It appears that this – and hats off to SENine and 853 for exposing it – was an a local aberration in the implementation of the policy by GLL and will be put right.

“The drinks on sale and in vending machines will be replaced by healthier alternatives. Greenwich were one of the first councils to adopt SugarSmart and have made great strides in council facilities, through GS Plus catering in schools and other centres and now with Greenwich Leisure Limited. Also, we have an increasing number of private businesses signed up to the healthy Catering Commitment and the largest number of employers in London signed up to the Healthy Workplace Charter.

“While we have made a little progress in reducing child obesity, we still have a mountain to climb, reducing sugar intake is a key part of this as is promoting more physical activity where the council does have a proud record, the opening of the Sutcliffe Park sports centre being the latest addition to the network of facilities in the borough. As ever, it is good to have local media on our case.”

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