Report shows sugar reduction goals not yet on track
LONDON, UK: The negative impact that excess sugar consumption has on both oral and overall health is a well-established fact at this point. It comes as concerning news, then, that an ambitious plan by Public Health England (PHE) to reduce the country’s sugar intake by 20% by 2020 has delivered mixed results so far, according to a recent report on the campaign’s progress.
The report measured the effectiveness of PHE’s campaign between 2015 (when the campaign was announced) and 2018. Retailers and manufacturers have recorded an overall 2.9% sugar reduction per 100 g since 2015—well short of what is needed for the stated 20% goal to be reached by next year.
Certain types of food have shown more progress than others, however. Yogurts and fromage frais have, on average, reduced their sugar content by 10.3% since 2015, and breakfast cereals now contain 8.5% less sugar per 100 g. In contrast, puddings and so-called sweet confectionery have both actually increased their average sugar content per 100 g since 2015 by 0.5% and 0.6%, respectively.
The clear standout in terms of decreasing sugar content was the category of carbonated beverages, which has undergone a 28.8% sugar reduction per 100 ml since 2015. This is almost entirely attributable to the April 2018 introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy—also known as the sugar tax. Unlike the voluntary nature of PHE’s sugar reduction campaign, the sugar tax is mandatory for all manufacturers of soft drinks, and its comparatively impressive results have drawn praise from the dental industry.
“The sugar levy is delivering the goods. It shows hard and fast policy beats volunteerism when it comes to making the food industry change its ways,” remarked Dr Mick Armstrong, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Principal Executive Committee.
“Ideology must never trump evidence when it comes to public health. Sugar is fuelling both tooth decay and obesity. It is not ‘nanny statism’ to follow tried-and-tested policies that can help reduce that burden,” Armstrong continued.
“Today’s findings are a mixed bag,” added Prof. Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. “The soft drinks levy is a success story and shows that government can make a significant difference when it compels the food industry to act in the interests of child health.”
“On the other hand—the results of the voluntary sugar reduction programme reveal the limits of self-regulation. While there are pockets of progress, industry is largely asleep at the wheel. It is time for a wake-up call. One in three children are overweight or obese by age 11 and the food industry has a major role to play in helping us turn this around,” continued Viner.
The report, titled Sugar Reduction: Report on Progress Between 2015 and 2018, was published online on 20 September 2019 on the UK government’s website.