Just 3% of sugar cut from food products in three years, PHE report finds

Retailers and manufacturer branded products reduced sugar content by only 3% since 2017, it has emergedRetailers and manufacturer branded products reduced sugar content by only 3% since 2017, sparking worries over the country’s health.

This falls well below the government’s aim to reduce sugar by 20% by 2020.

In a report by Public Health England (PHE), data reveals many products display ‘little or no reduction’ in sugar levels.

For example, quantities in chocolate and sweets have reduced by just 0.4% and 0.1% respectively. Additionally, they have actually increased in puddings by 2%.

On the other hand, other products have seen a notable improvement. The sugar content in yoghurt and fromage frais are down by 12.9%, with breakfast cereals cutting it by 13.3%

Mixed progress on sugar

The introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy also had a dramatic impact on sugar levels in beverages.

Statistics show a massive 43.7% reduction in the sugar content of soft drinks between 2015 and 2019.

‘Progress achieved by retailers and manufacturers at brand and product level is mixed,’ the report concludes.

‘Some businesses are making progress, whilst others are showing little or no change. Some brands are showing increases in their sales weighted average for both sugar and calorie content.’

Tackle wider health issues

James Goolnik is the founder of the Bow Lane Dental Group and activist for sugar reduction. He believes more needs to be done, citing the report as ‘disappointing’.

‘I was very disappointed to read the Sugar report of what the government has achieved in four years,’ he says.

‘The target was a 20% reduction across the board, they achieved 3% and in some sectors it actually went up (chocolate confectionery). Overall this initiative has resulted in an increase in sugar in the products targeted.

‘I would like to see the government invest the Soft Drinks Industry Levy income and be ring-fenced to be spent on children’s health via a healthy food investment fund. I would love some of it to be used towards oral health where it can help to reduce dental disease and caries. Also, to tackle wider health issues such as obesity and diabetes, which are rocketing since the Coronavirus pandemic.

‘As the report shows the products have maintained the sweetness of their products. This means the public is still craving sugar, as research shows sweeteners don’t fill you up. Companies should slowly cut back these levels. For example, reducing it from 20g to 18g to 16g not only keeps the public healthier, but means they are more likely to keep buying the product.

‘I would also like to expand this report to improve the nutrient content of commercial baby foods and drinks. These are the first foods our children are exposed to and they are full of sugar.’

Sustained action

This comes as tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admission in five to nine year olds.

More than 23,500 children underwent hospital treatment for tooth decay from April 2019 to the end of March 2020. This is more than double the second most common cause, acute tonsillitis (10,359).

Following the report, the British Dental Association (BDA) is now calling on ministers to take urgent action.

‘Britain is losing the war on sugar because ministers remain unwilling to really put up a fight,’ said BDA chair Eddie Crouch.

‘Voluntary action from industry on reformulation is making next to no headway. We need a real sense of urgency, wedded to mandatory targets.

‘COVID needs to focus minds on the need for sustained action on preventable diseases like tooth decay and obesity. Hard-won gains will only slip into reverse as lockdown diets take their toll.’

You can read the full report here.

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