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Cutting sugar 'may lead to smaller chocolate bars'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
bar of dark chocolate

30th March 2017 – England's health watchdog has set out a plan for how food manufacturers can cut 200,000 tonnes of sugar from their products by 2020.

Guidelines drawn up by Public Health England (PHE) include how much sugar should be contained in 9 food groups including biscuits, breakfast cereals and cakes.

However, critics say the curbs can't be achieved because the targets are voluntary.

Cutting sugar by 20%

The guidelines have been set in the aftermath of the government's 'Childhood obesity: a plan for action' report which noted that almost a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese.

It called for all sectors of the food and drinks industry to be challenged to reduce overall sugar across a range of products that contribute to children's sugar intakes by at least 20% by 2020, including a 5% reduction in the first year.

The reduction in sugar can be achieved in 1 of 3 ways:

  • Reformulating products with less sugar content
  • Reducing the portion size, such as smaller packets
  • Persuading consumers to buy alternatives with no or less sugar content

The new guidelines will apply to retailers, manufacturers and the out of home sector, such as restaurants, takeaways and cafés.

Breakfast cereals, yoghurt and confectionary

The 9 categories in the programme are:

  1. Breakfast cereals
  2. Yoghurts
  3. Biscuits
  4. Cakes
  5. Morning goods like croissants
  6. Puddings
  7. Ice creams, lollies and sorbets
  8. Chocolate and sweets
  9. Sweet spreads, including chocolate spread, peanut butter and jam

PHE says it will be monitoring products in these categories to check success rates in the industry.

It says it wants to encourage the industry to go further and faster in sugar reduction to boost children's health.

Enforcement 'is the missing ingredient'

The pressure group Action on Sugar welcomed PHE's "tremendous achievement" in moving fast to draw up the guidelines.

However, its chairman Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, says in an emailed statement that "the missing factor in this report is how these targets will be enforced".

He continues: "We’ve seen over recent weeks that some companies within the food and drink industry have made great progress whilst others are seriously lagging behind and others claiming wrongly that they can't do it."

In an emailed comment, Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents food and drink companies, says: "The guidelines are very stretching but manufacturers, for our part, are willing to take on the challenge.
"Manufacturers know the special place their products have in people’s lives. Companies are working hard to overcome technical challenges and make gradual tweaks to favourite foods that regular customers can accept. They are also developing new low sugar alternatives. In some foods, portion size reductions will be necessary."

Latest childhood obesity figures published

Latest figures published today show that In 2015-16, over 1 in 5 children in school reception classes in England, and over 1 in 3 children in year 6 aged 10 to 11 were obese or overweight.

Children living in the most deprived areas are twice as likely to be obese than those in the least deprived areas, according to NHS Digital.

The analysis also showed that in 2015, 58% of women and 68% of men were overweight or obese.

Reviewed on March 30, 2017

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