PHE reports a 3% reduction in sugar in food products in the last 4years, way below their target

Image courtesy: THNL

ENGLAND – Public Health England (PHE) has released a report that shows a small 3% overall reduction in sugar in food products sold between 2015 and 2019, was far below the government’s voluntary target for the food industry of 20% by 2020

The report said there had been hardly any change in sugar content in food eaten outside the home between 2017 and 2019. The largest drops in sugar were in yogurts and breakfast cereals.

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PHE’s latest report shows a mixed picture – falls in sugar in some branded goods sold in shops but relatively little change in sugar levels in chocolate and sweets, which are seeing rising sales.

The latest report also finds that marginal progress has been made in reducing sugar in products purchased and consumed in the eating out of home sector, such as cakes and puddings purchased from restaurants or cafes, although calories in these products have declined.

“Too much sugar is bad for our health and most of us are consuming more than we need, often without realising it.”

Dr Alison Tedstone – Chief Nutritionist, PHE

Sugar reduction progress is reported by PHE for the first time for unsweetened juices including smoothies and sweetened milk-based drinks, such as milkshakes.

These were added to the voluntary programme, in 2018, as they can contribute significantly to children’s sugar and calorie consumption.

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Most retailer and manufacturer branded drinks have reduced sugar levels by at least 10% already with pre-packed sweetened milk-based drinks reducing sugar by more than a fifth (22%).

“On sugar reduction, particularly in products like breakfast cereals, yogurts and ice cream, we have achieved some much-needed progress. This will make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices, but it’s clear more can be done,” Jo Churchill, Public Health Minister, said.

“COVID-19 has highlighted obesity and how important it is to tackle it. Our recent announcement of the obesity strategy includes world-leading measures, such as a TV watershed for advertising food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar, and consulting on how we can introduce a ban online. If more action is needed to support individuals to lead a healthy life, we will go further to help them.”

The report also highlights the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) with average sugar levels in drinks subject to the levy falling by 44% between 2015 and 2019 for retailers and manufacturers. Overall, sugar consumed through these products has fallen even as sales have increased.

Reducing sugar in food and drinks has been an important part of the government’s commitment to tackle obesity.

Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and put people more at risk of other diseases, such as heart problems, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Being heavily overweight is now also known to increase someone’s risk of serious illness with Covid-19.

Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese in England, and one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

“Too much sugar is bad for our health and most of us are consuming more than we need, often without realising it. We’ve continued to see some progress in reducing sugar in a number of everyday food and drink products and this shows that success is possible through reformulation,” Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said.

“Yet, 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.”

The sugar reduction programme is one of a range of government commitments to support children and families to reduce sugar intake.

This includes advertising restrictions and ending promotional deals on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat as well as calorie labelling at large restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

Speaking on the report, Jo Churchill, Public Health Minister, said that while there had been progress on sugar reduction, particularly in products like breakfast cereals, yogurts and ice cream, there was more to be done.

“COVID-19 has highlighted obesity and how important it is to tackle it. Our recent announcement of the obesity strategy includes world-leading measures, such as a TV watershed for advertising food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar, and consulting on how we can introduce a ban online. If more action is needed to support individuals to lead a healthy life, we will go further to help them,” she said.

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