Government’s sugar reduction plans not working, says Action on Sugar

Posted: 7 October 2020 | | No comments yet

Food products have only seen a three percent reduction in sugar levels, according to a report from Public Health England (PHE).  

child eating doughnut

In 2016, the food and hospitality industry were challenged by Government to reduce sugar by 20 percent in foods that contribute most to children’s sugar consumption. Data published today (7 October 2020) by Public Health England (PHE) tracks the progress made over the last three years and reveals mixed results across a range of food categories.

Dairy sector triumphs with sugar reduction

Retailer and manufacturer branded breakfast cereals, yogurts and fromage frais have witnessed some of the biggest falls in sales weighted average sugar between the baseline (2015) and year three (2019), says the report. For example, there has been a 22.1 percent reduction in sugar for pre-packed milk-based drinks and 13.4 percent for pre-packed fermented (yogurt) drinks.

“These results are fantastic and a testament to the dedication of dairy processors to reducing the sugar content of their products and meeting the reduction targets,” remarked Dr Judith Bryans, Chief Executive of Dairy UK. “In particular, the progress made in the milk-based drinks category is incredibly impressive. It shows the willingness and ambition of industry to reformulate their products, working together with PHE. We look forward to working with policy makers to build on these strong results and hope that the spirit of collaboration to achieve policy outcomes can continue.”  

Soft Drinks Levy is working but chocolate, cake and sweets failing to make progress

The data also highlights the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, with average sugar levels falling by 44 percent between 2015 and 2019 for retailers and manufacturers. 

Despite this win for dairy and the Levy, the story for the chocolate and confectionery is not so victorious. Sugar content in chocolate and confectionery have remained rather static over the tracked period, whilst sales have grown.

There has not been much improvement in products purchased and consumed in the out-of-home sector either, for example cakes and puddings bought in cafes and restaurants. Saying this, calorie content has declined in such snacks.

“Apart from the sugary drinks levy, it’s abundantly clear that the Government’s voluntary sugar reduction programme is simply not working, after reporting a dismal 0.1 percent reduction in sugar between 2018 and 2019,” stated Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London.

“Food and drink companies that want to do the right thing are crying out for a level playing field, which can only be achieved by setting mandatory targets for calorie and sugar reduction,” he continued. “The Soft Drinks Levy has shown that this approach is both best for business, and best for everyone’s health, including people from more disadvantaged groups.

“Whilst the Government gets to grips with the current COVID-19 pandemic, it must not ignore that the situation is fuelling the UK’s other pandemics – obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and tooth decay – all linked to high sugar intakes which the food industry is largely responsible for.

“It’s imperative that whichever organisation takes over from PHE, they implement comprehensive and compulsory reformulation targets across the whole of the food and drink industry to gradually reduce the amount of sugar and excess calories in food and drink.”