The food industry, including retailers, manufacturers and restaurant chains, has failed to hit the government’s 5% sugar-reduction target for the first year of its plan to reduce childhood obesity.
However, the 2% reduction that was achieved in the year to August 2017 still represented an “encouraging initial start from retailers and manufacturers,” Public Health England (PHE) said.
“Whilst this doesn’t meet the 5% ambition, PHE recognises there are more sugar reduction plans from the food industry in the pipeline – and some changes to products that are not yet captured in the data as they took effect after the first year cut-off point,” it added.
As part of the government’s plan to reduce childhood obesity, the food industry has been challenged to cut 20% of sugar from a range of products by 2020.
For the eight food categories where progress has been measured, the assessment also showed that sugar levels across five categories, including yoghurts and fromage frais, breakfast cereals, and sweet spreads and sauces, had all met or exceeded the initial 5% sugar reduction ambition.
Retailers and manufacturers had also reduced calories in products likely to be consumed in one go in four categories, for example by reducing the size of the product.
The government also reported good progress on the drinks covered by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) which was introduced in April, with sugar having been reduced by 11% and average calories per portion by 6% by retailers and manufacturers in response to the SDIL.
The data also showed that people were buying more drinks with sugar levels below the SDIL cut-off of 5g per 100g.
Public health minister Steve Brine said: “We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year.
“However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.”
Responding to the report, British Retail Consortium director of food policy Andrew Opie said: “Retailers are fully committed to helping improve the health of their customers and have led the way in reducing sugar in their products.
“Thousands of tonnes of sugar have been removed from retailers’ own product ranges to date and continuing work will result in even greater reductions over the next few years. Retailers have shown that reducing sugar levels across a wide range of products is possible but all food businesses must follow suit if we are to see significant reductions in the level of sugar in the nation’s diet.”
The next progress report on the sugar reduction programme is due in spring 2019.