The public health body for England has published new guidelines for sugar reduction and reformulation in food, challenging manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar in their products by 20% over the next four years.
Public Health England said that the guidelines apply to nine food categories ‘that contribute the most’ to people’s intake of sugar. They include typically sugar-heavy foods such as biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals and sweet spreads – as well sources of hidden sugar like yogurt and pastries.
Food companies are being told to reduce the sugar in their products by 5% this year, and by 20% overall by 2020.
Public Health England set out three ways that they could do this: through reformulation, by reducing the portion size or number of calories in a single serving, and by shifting consumer behaviour towards products with less or zero added sugar.
It’s not clear how that third recommendation would help firms to meet Public Health England’s metric for measuring the success of the programme: the net amount of sugar removed from key food categories between now and 2020.
Its chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said: “The UK has one of the most innovative food sectors in the world and it’s in everyone’s best interests to ensure it remains a dynamic and thriving sector of our economy. The scale of our ambition to reduce sugar is unrivalled anywhere in the world, which means the UK food industry has a unique opportunity to innovate and show the rest of the world how it can be done. I believe reducing sugar in the nation’s diet will be good for health and ultimately good for UK food business.
“We can’t duck the fact [that] a third of children are leaving primary school overweight or obese and obesity generally is having a profound effect, not just on the costs for the health service, but on the overall health of the nation. Our economy is affected as obesity can lead to long term health problems that result in time off work.
The UK government’s public health minister, Nicola Blackwood, added: “This government believes in taking a common-sense approach to improving public health and that includes changing the addictive relationship our children have with sugar.
“Many companies have already taken impressive steps to rise to this challenge but it’s important that everyone steps up. We should seize this unique opportunity to be global leaders in food innovation.
“The PHE guidelines are based on more than 6 months of meetings with the food industry and public health NGOs. More than 40 meetings were held with food suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and the eating out of home sector, representing fast food, coffee shops, family restaurants, entertainment venues and pub chains.”
Do people know their sugar?
One of the biggest obstacles to consumer health is a lack of awareness about how much sugar people should consume on a daily basis – and what that is in familiar measurements. The National Health Service recommends that added sugar makes up no more than 5% of a person’s overall calorie intake. For teenagers and adults, that means around 30g per day. But do consumers know how much that is? Many would be surprised to learn that 30g of granulated sugar is equivalent to around 7.5 teaspoons or 3/20 of an American cup. Public awareness is clearly one of the industry’s biggest hurdles.
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said that he supported the government’s proposals.
He said: “Obesity levels in the UK are unacceptably high. Physical inactivity is a factor, but for many the problem overwhelmingly is with excess calories in the diet. With many of these calories coming from sugars, we support the Government’s highly ambitious sugars reduction drive.
“Today’s report represents a constructive platform on which to build a world-leading programme of voluntary sugars reduction, right across food and drink. All parts of the food industry – manufacturers, retailers, takeaways, restaurants and cafés – need to step up. The guidelines are very stretching but manufacturers, for our part, are willing to take on the challenge.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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