Public Health England (PHE) has published new guidelines calling for a 20 per cent reduction in total sugar from foods in a bid to reduce childhood obesity in the UK.
The guidelines have been set across a range of food categories, with food companies challenged to reduce sugar by 20 per cent by 2020, and by five per cent by the end of this year.
The move could lead to the food industry lowering sugar levels in foods such as chocolate bars, biscuits and cereals, reducing product sizes or launching healthier products.
Currently, one in five children in the UK are overweight or obese when they begin primary school, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and other health complications.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said the guidelines are a good start, but more needs to be done to eliminate sugar from common food products.
“If businesses achieve these guidelines, 200,000 tonnes of sugar could be removed from the UK market per year by 2020,” she said. “[But] there is still a way to go because sugar is still coming from other products. Pasta sauces, for example, often have sugar in.
“We know that customers tell us in our surveys that they want smaller portion sizes, we know that reducing portion sizes supports health.
“Tackling the amount of sugar we eat is not just a healthy thing to do, but an issue of inequality for many families.”
The new guidelines also apply to high street cafes, coffee shops and fast food restaurants, which often have a lot of sugar in their products.
While PHE’s sugar reduction programme is voluntary, many companies have already taken steps to achieve the sugar targets.
“Some companies have already made significant changes to the sugar and calorie content of their products and there have been some encouraging announcements of plans by industry to step up to the challenge, but there is more to be done,” said British Nutrition Foundation Director General Professor Judy Buttriss.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, added: “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.
“Doing nothing is no longer an option – we need transparency from them about how they are meeting the targets with clear nutritional information made available for restaurants, catering companies and other out-of-home eateries.”

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