Breakfast cereals contain ‘shocking levels’ of sugar with some containing a third of a young child’s recommended daily allowance, according to a new study by pressure groups.

Research by Action on Sugar and Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) at Queen Mary University of London found that sugar content in the same breakfast cereals has been steadily high since 1992 despite manufacturer claims, with a typical 30g serving containing up to five teaspoons of sugar.

Kawther Hashem, registered nutritionist for Action on Sugar, said: “Breakfast cereals can be a healthy choice, as they contain fibre and are fortified with vitamins; however our study shows that the sugars content in breakfast cereals has been steadily high since 1992, despite the ever-increasing evidence linking sugars with dental caries, obesity and type 2 diabetes. There has been no national sugar reduction programme, which is imperative if we want to see measurable improvements.

“Public Health England is due to announce a major national sugar reduction programme, as part of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, in March 2017. All manufacturers must support the programme and start reducing sugar now.”

The salt content in cereals decreased by approximately 50% over the past 10 years as a result of a successful salt reduction programme, with 53% of products surveyed in 2015 meeting the Department of Health’s average salt target for breakfast cereals (0·59g per 100g).

On average flakes with additions (0·81g) contained the most salt per 100g, whereas crunchy nut-style (32.22g) cereals contained most sugar per 100g.

Graham MacGregor, Professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: “Manufacturers should be congratulated for making significant reductions to the salt levels. However further reductions are needed as cereals remain far too high in salt. Reducing salt is the most cost effective measure to lower blood pressure and reduce the number of suffers of strokes and heart disease.”

A statement from Kellogg’s said: “We are committed to providing people with more of what they want and need in our food, like grains and ingredients they recognise, and less of what they don’t, like salt and sugar. We have reduced salt content by 57% over the last two decades and thanks to our ongoing sugar reduction work, by the end of 2017 we will have removed 2000 tonnes of sugar from the nation’s diet too. Long-term efforts have already seen sugar come down in brands such as Special K and Bran Flakes while our biggest selling children’s cereal Coco Pops, has been reduced by 14%.”