The food industry has only cut 3% of sugar from its supermarket, bar and restaurant products in the past three years, according to a damning report from Public Health England that will expedite demands for taxes or other mandatory measures to be introduced.
PHE launched its flagship sugar reduction program in 2016 with a mission to help reduce childhood obesity by introducing a voluntary target for the food industry to remove 20% sugar by 2020. But the third year of data – gathered before the Covid coronavirus outbreak – suggests it’s unattainable without a “big stick” like taxation.
However, a levy on sugar in soft drinks was a success. The PHE report says that sugar levels in lemonades, colas and other soft drinks have dropped by 44% since 2015, with many companies cutting out sugar to avoid the tax.
But while the sugar content in breakfast cereals, yogurt and cottage cheese has decreased by about 13 percent since 2015, there is “little or no reduction” in many other food categories, PHE says. Sugar levels in chocolates and sweets remained unchanged, but sales increased, so the total amount of sugar purchased in these two confectionary groups increased by 16% and 7%, respectively. The sugar content in the puddings increased by 2%.
“Overall, there was almost no change in the average simple sugar content from 24.6 g per 100 g at baseline (2017) to 24.5 g per 100 g in year 3 (2019),” says the report. . He further stated that since 2015 there has been almost no change in calories in products that could be consumed on a single occasion, from 146 calories per serving in 2015 to 147 calories in 2019.
The poor results will dismay the government, which has pledged to tackle obesity following Boris Johnson’s meeting with Covid-19, which it believes has been compounded by its burden.
Questions and answers
Why is sugar bad for you?
Eating too much sugar causes people to consume too many calories throughout the day, which can lead to weight gain. Being overweight increases the risk of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Sugar is also a major cause of tooth decay.
The NHS recommends that most adults and children in the UK eat too much of a type of sugar called “free sugars”. These are the sugars added to food and drinks, found in cookies, chocolate, breakfast cereals, and carbonated drinks. But they are also found naturally in honey and unsweetened fruit juices.
The UK government’s recommendation is that these “free sugars” should not make up more than 5% of the calories you consume each day. That’s still a lot of sugar – that’s seven lumps of sugar for an adult. But keep in mind that a can of a fizzy drink can contain the equivalent of 9 sugar cubes. Children under the age of 4 should avoid all sugary drinks and food with added “free sugars”.
“When it comes to reducing sugar, particularly in products like breakfast cereals, yogurts and ice cream, we’ve made some much-needed progress. This will make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices, but it is clear that more can be done, ”said Public Health Minister Jo Churchill.
“Covid-19 highlighted obesity and how important it is to tackle it. Our recent obesity strategy announcement includes world-leading measures such as a televised watershed for advertising high-fat, salt and sugar foods and beverages and advice on how to introduce an online ban. If further action is needed to support people to lead healthy lives, we will go further to help them. “
Although there has been progress – and the soft drink experience has shown that it is possible to eliminate sugar without companies losing sales – Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said that most people still consume too much sugar. , often without realizing it.
“Overall progress remains too slow. Faster and more robust action is needed to help us consume less sugar, which will help us become healthier and lower the economic burden of obesity and preventable pressure on the NHS, “he said.
PHE has provided the government with extensive advice on what measures will work to bring down childhood obesity. Some of them – such as the ban on watershed television advertising on foods containing high levels of fat, sugar and salt – have been adopted recently.
PHE says it “will continue to provide expert advice to the government on potential levers to tackle excess sugar consumption” and stresses that “the government is committed to further action if no progress is made”.
In the past, however, Johnson has strongly opposed taxes and coercion as a way to change people’s eating and drinking habits. In June last year, he spoke out against PHE’s plans to include milk-based beverages in the sugar tax. He said he was against any “milkshake tax”, which “would affect those who can least afford it.”
The PHE report shows that the inclusion of milk-based beverages in the voluntary measures along with the 2017 unsweetened juices and smoothies had an effect. “Most retailer and manufacturer branded drinks have reduced sugar levels by at least 10 percent already with prepackaged sweetened milk drinks that reduce sugar by more than a fifth (22 percent),” he says.
Most adults and children in England consume more than double the maximum recommended daily amount of sugar, which is 30g (7 cubes) for adults and children over 11 years of age, 24g for children aged 7 and 10 years and 19 g for children aged 4 to 6 years. one third of adults are overweight or obese and one in three children are overweight or obese when they start secondary school. The NHS spends around £ 6.1 billion annually to treat health problems related to overweight and obesity, PHE says.
Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance said the the results were disappointing, but not surprising. “It is clear from this report that the food industry is either unable or unwilling to voluntarily reformulate and it is time for a different approach,” he said. “The significant sugar reduction observed in milk-based beverages shows that having a specific and limited time commitment to extend the soft drink industry levy to this category has been extremely effective in driving the sugar reduction.”