sugar cubes bowl
© Getty
You know the dietary times really are a-changin' when a UK hospital calls on a community to stop eating sugar and processed foods.

And when mayors, MPs and celebrities support it. Tameside Hospital in Greater Manchester has issued a world-first 70-day challenge to the 250,000 people it serves to go sugar-free.

The DITCH SUGAR! call comes on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the NHS (National Health Service). It highlights soaring levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the UK as linked chronic health conditions - which doctors now call "diabesity". Tameside is also holding a symposium on Wednesday, July 4. Those who register will receive a free guide to kickstart their sugar-free challenge by email. It is based on UK consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra's bestseller The Pioppi Diet and includes a freeview of his groundbreaking doccie, The Big Fat Fix, with filmmaker Donal O'Neill.

Dr Aseem Malhotra

Dr Aseem Malhotra
Malhotra is a speaker at the symposium, along with Sandra Roycroft-Davis. Roycroft-Davis is a Harley Street behavioural change specialist and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity.

Organisers say that Tameside's challenge is important because it spotlights the effects of diabesity on an already-heavily burdened NHS. They also say that the NHS could strain to breaking point - if hospitals and communities don't act now.

Malhotra grew up in Tameside, so he's going back to his roots. In 2014, he launched the lobbying group, Action on Sugar, with fellow medical specialists.

His aim: to persuade the food industry to reduce added sugar in processed foods. Malhotra has also memorably called sugar "Public Health Enemy Number 1" in the Western diet.

Hospital meals

In January 2018, Tameside Hospital became the first in the NHS to ditch sugary snack and drinks from the restaurant in January after a staff weight-loss trial.

In a press release, the hospital says that it has plans to improve patient meals further. It will eliminate sugary confectionary and drinks from on-site shops and vending machines.

Organisers say that DITCH SUGAR! is a "call to arms" to the people and organisations of Tameside and Glossop. Thus, they hope to encourage them to cut down on sugar and ultra-processed foods to improve their health and weight rapidly.

The campaign benefits from support at the highest levels. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Angela Rayner MP for Ashton-Under-Lyne are among supporters.

The Pioppi Diet

Organisers say that one way to ditch sugar is to follow Malhotra's lifestyle plan in The Pioppi Diet.

The Pioppi Diet
Vocal fans of Malhotra's lifestyle plan include BBC Radio DJ, broadcaster and model Sara Cox. Cox has said that she feels "leaner, energised, definitely less bloated and more healthy" after following the plan.

"I am obsessed with The Pioppi Diet," Cox says.

Former Wimbledon tennis champ Pat Cash is similarly positive about the book.

In an article on his website, Malhotra explains the dramatic changes to his thinking on heart health. These days, he makes a point of telling patients to avoid anything bearing the label "low fat".

Instead, he tells them: "Embrace full-fat dairy and other saturated fats within the context of a healthy eating plan." He also tells them to steer clear of "anything that promises to reduce cholesterol".

Challenge to 'Ditch Sugar'

Malhotra puts it mildly when he says that many MDs greet his views with "open-mouthed astonishment". Like others who challenge orthodoxy, he therefore regularly faces attack from medical and dietetic establishments.

Yet in some cases, lowering cholesterol levels can actually increase cardiovascular death and mortality, Malhotra says.

And in healthy people over 60, "a higher cholesterol is associated with a lower risk of mortality."

He refers to the story of Cheshire businessman Mike Sackett. Sackett, 53, narrowly survived a heart attack after religiously following the NHS low-fat, high-carb Eatwell Guide. British public health researcher Dr Zoë Harcombe calls it the Eatbadly Guide.

Wife Lynda, a clinical research nurse, suggested that he try Malhotra's lifestyle plan. Both say that the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Lynda also says that the advice in The Pioppi Diet is the polar opposite of NHS low-fat advice to heart patients.

Therefore, say the organisers, interventions such as Tameside Hospital's DITCH SUGAR! campaign are all the more needed. They can also be life-changing.