News, Culture & Society

Food industry is failing to slash sugar levels in products

The food industry has failed to slash sugar levels in products such as biscuits to hit Government targets.

Sugar levels in popular foods including ice cream and chocolate bars were supposed to be cut by 5 per cent over the last year.

But a report yesterday showed firms had reduced levels by only 2 per cent overall – and some foods had actually become sweeter. MPs said the voluntary policy had ‘failed miserably’ while doctors said the results were ‘hugely disappointing’.

Food manufacturers have reduced the amount of sugar in their products by 2% in the past year

Doctors warn that half of all UK adults will be obese by the end of 2045, file photograph

Doctors warn that half of all UK adults will be obese by the end of 2045, file photograph

The targets were drawn up by Public Health England – the Government’s anti-obesity agency – last March.

Firms were told to cut sugar by 5 per cent by 2018 and 20 per cent by 2020, either by making products smaller or changing ingredients.

But there were no sanctions if the targets were ignored and the policy relied on the co-operation of the food industry. The PHE report, published yesterday, showed that of the 20 biggest selling brands of sweet products in the UK, only 33 per cent had reduced their sugar content.

Another 56 per cent of brands had not changed sugar levels and the remaining 12 per cent had increased them. Overall levels of sugar were cut in five out of eight categories – yoghurts, breakfast cereals, sweet spreads, confectionery and ice cream.

Half of UK adults will be obese by 2045 

Almost half the UK’s adults will be obese by 2045, experts warn.

They predict the NHS will be overwhelmed by patients needing treatment for obesity-related diseases if current trends continue.

Public health interventions have done little to stem the tide, they say, with around a third of adults currently obese or overweight. A research team, including University College London, predicted this number would rise to 48 per cent within three decades – causing one in eight to develop type 2 diabetes.

Danish researcher Dr Alan Moses, who led the global study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, said the UK faces a ‘staggering challenge’ to slim – or a crippling cost to our health service.

But the sugar content in chocolate and biscuits was unchanged and for puddings it increased by an average of 1 per cent. Obesity levels in the UK are among the worst in Europe – a third of children and two thirds of adults are obese or overweight.

The Government has been heavily criticised in recent years for failing to act and for not imposing mandatory targets. Astonishingly, PHE bosses yesterday said they were ‘quite encouraged’ by the results. Chief executive Duncan Selbie said: ‘We have seen some of the food industry make good progress.’

Yesterday, Mr Selbie was summoned before MPs on the health select committee to discuss the report. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said the target had ‘failed miserably’, adding: ‘What would it take you to be disappointed, given you set a target of 5 per cent in the first year and you achieved 2 per cent?’

Campaigners are now calling for compulsory sugar targets. Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the results were ‘hugely disappointing’, adding: ‘We need a package of tough measures.’

Tim Rycroft, of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents the industry, said: ‘We have long said that the guidelines are ambitious and will not be met across all categories or in the timescale outlined.’

nTeenagers who watch the most junk food adverts on TV eat the equivalent of 60 more cheeseburgers a year than their peers, a study found. Even just watching one extra advert a week affected the diets of 11 to 19-year-olds, the study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna found.