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Government reviews food industry’s progress on sugar reduction targets

This is the first assessment of the targets which were introduced in 2016 to help curb the UK’s obesity crisis.

BITTER SWEET: The FDF has repeatedly said some of the targets are not achievable in the time frame

Public Health England (PHE) has published the first assessment of progress on the Government’s sugar reduction programme, measuring how far the food industry has gone towards reducing the sugar children consume through everyday foods.

As part of the Government’s plan to reduce childhood obesity, the food industry, including retailers, manufacturers, restaurants, cafés and pub chains, has been challenged to cut 20 per cent of sugar from a range of products by 2020, with a 5 per cent reduction in the first year.

Progress towards meeting the 5 per cent ambition is assessed against a 2015 baseline in the review. According to PHE, the assessment shows an encouraging initial start from retailers and manufacturers, achieving a 2 per cent reduction in both average sugar content and calories in products likely to be consumed in one go.

Steve Brine, Public Health Minister, said: “We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year.

“However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.”

As part of the programme, businesses are encouraged to focus efforts on their top selling products within 10 categories that contribute the most sugar to the diets of children up to 18 years of age. They have three options to help them do this – reduce sugar levels (reformulation), provide smaller portions, or encourage consumers to purchase lower or no sugar products.

Progress is also reported on the drinks covered by the Government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL). Sugar has been reduced by 11 per cent and average calories per portion by 6 per cent by retailers and manufacturers in response to the SDIL. Data also shows people are buying more drinks that have sugar levels below the SDIL cut-off of 5g per 100g.

Tim Rycroft, the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) Director of Corporate Affairs, said: “As PHE correctly point out, reformulation takes time – it can’t happen overnight. Sugar reduction has considerable technical challenges; sugar plays a variety of roles beyond sweetness in food including colour, texture and consistency.

“It is for these reasons that we have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.

“Obesity poses a huge public health challenge in the UK, and food and drink companies are well aware of their role in addressing this issue. For the last decade the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes. In fact, over the last five years FDF members have reduced calorie content in the average basket by 5.5 per cent, and sugar content by 12.1 per cent – and there is more work in the pipeline.”

Action on Sugar’s response and seven-point plan

Kawther Hashem, Nutritionist at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Whilst we welcome PHE’s first assessment of progress on the government’s sugar reduction programme, it’s evident that much more must be done – particularly on biscuits, chocolate confectionery, puddings and the large portions of high sugar products sold in the out of home sector.

“It’s unfair and ridiculous that the out of home sector products are not being reformulated to the same extent. Much stricter measures need to be in place to ensure progress is being made by the food industry and that the 20 per cent sugar reduction target is met.”

Action on Sugar has today (May 23) launched a seven-point plan, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to introduce an energy density levy on confectionery, make nutritional labelling on menus & packaging mandatory and ban marketing of HFSS products.

More details of the plan can be found here.

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