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LEEDS, UK: The UK government has recently taken action to reduce sugar intake in the country and called for industry reformulation of foods that contribute most to sugar consumption in children’s diets, such as yogurts. Subsequently, scientists from the University of Leeds examined product and nutrient information from 893 yogurts available in UK supermarkets and compared all products to a 2016 baseline survey. The findings revealed that there has been a significant decrease in total sugar content in the last two years.
Those with the most reduction in sugar were children’s drinks and fruit yogurts. The number of different children’s and organic products has also decreased since 2016, by 23% and 27%, respectively. In contrast, products containing less than 5 g of sugar per 100 g and classed as “low sugar” increased from 9% in 2016 to 15% in 2019. The data highlights the potential positive effect public policy measures and recommendations are having on improving the nutrient profile of commonly consumed foods. However, the researchers warned that yogurt might still not be the healthiest option for children.
“Yogurt definitely can have health benefits but ultimately the final nutrient composition depends on the type of milk used and the ingredients added during production, which often include additional sugars and other sweeteners,” said lead author Dr Bernadette Moore, associate professor of obesity in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds.
“The food industry has a responsibility to ensure healthier options are available and that our children aren’t flooded by products full of hidden sugars. We hope to see them step up even more to this challenge,” added Dr Alison Tedstone, national director with responsibility of diet, nutrition and obesity in the Health and Wellbeing Directorate of Public Health England at Public Health England.
Compared with 2016, the number of dairy-alternative products has almost doubled. Moore believes that this is due to ethical and environmental considerations. However, it is still unclear whether plant-based yogurts provide the same nutritional and health benefits as cow’s milk does. “Because dairy alternatives do not have lactose, which is a naturally occurring sugar, the total sugar content comes entirely from added sweeteners. Generally added sugars are considered to be worse for teeth and health,” Moore noted.
The researchers also found that 40% of the products tested were new. Of those, 32% showed reductions in sugar content and 61% showed no changes. This suggests that products high in sugar may have been discontinued and that this, in turn, has influenced the overall drop in sugar across all surveyed products.
The study, titled “Sugar reduction in yogurt products sold in the UK between 2016 and 2019”, was published online on 8 January 2020 in Nutrients.