Food industry sugar reduction: Critics disappointed at the results

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Action of Sugar was critical of the level of sugar reduction displayed by food and drink firms
Action of Sugar was critical of the level of sugar reduction displayed by food and drink firms

Related tags reformulation Sugar

Food and drink firms reported sweeping reductions in sugar in the Government’s Sugar Reduction Programme: Industry progress update, but criticism was levelled against the industry for its inability to meet voluntary targets.

The report found that, overall, there was a 3.5% reduction in the sales weighted average total sugar per 100g in products – retailer own brand and manufacturer branded products – sold between baseline (2015) and year four (2020).

Products with the largest reported reductions included yogurts and fromage frais (12.5%), breakfast cereals (14.9%) and ice cream, lollies and sorbets combined (7.2%) compared to the baseline.

Sweet spreads and sauces also saw a 10.1% reduction compared to the baseline. However, the report attributed this decrease to a growth in sales of peanut butter, which is lower in sugar compared to other products in this category.

Voluntary reformulation failure

Graham MacGregor, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar said that while the report showed the food industry was capable of reducing sugar levels, it made it clear the voluntary reformulation doesn’t work.

“The UK faces an obesity crisis and one of the principle plans outlined by the Department of Health and Public Health England was to tackle this by reducing sugar in food products by 20% by 2020 across the main food categories. Not surprisingly the plan was an abject failure due to a lack of enforcement,”​ said MacGregor.

“Like with the successful soft drinks levy, the food industry wants certainty and direction which is why the Government must commit to measures such as mandatory targets for calories, sugar and salt reduction, enforced marketing and promotions restrictions and clearer, mandatory food labelling.

Biggest cause of death’

“We mustn't forget that unhealthy diets high in saturated fat, salt and sugar (which lack fruit and vegetables) is the biggest cause of death and disability globally and costs the UK more than £100bn (combined) annually. Procrastinating any further should not be an option.”

Obesity Health Alliance director Katharine Jenner agreed that a voluntary approach was not able to deliver the required level of progress to make any significant and lasting change.

“Evidence suggests that the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) has been an enormous success – reducing sugar intake even for people on lower incomes without leading to a decline in sales,”​ she continued.

“The Government must now explore ways of expanding this model in order to fix the broken food environment and make the healthy option the easiest and most affordable option for everyone."

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