Public Health England (PHE) has advised manufacturers to reduce portion sizes under its new guidelines aimed at reducing the amount of sugar that children consume in everyday foods.  

PHE has challenged manufacturers to reduce sugar by 5% by August 2017 and by 20% by 2020, in line with the government’s obesity strategy set out last summer. It has recommended sugar limits for a number of food groups, including biscuits, confectionery and breakfast cereals.

Other food groups in the programme include yogurts, cakes, pastries, puddings, ice creams and sweet spreads.

The health body is encouraging the industry to innovate to lower children’s sugar intakes by reformulating products to lower sugar levels; reducing portion size and/or the number of calories in a single-serve product; and shifting consumer purchasing towards lower or no added sugar products.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: “The UK has one of the most innovative food sectors in the world and it’s in everyone’s best interests to ensure it remains a dynamic and thriving sector of our economy. The scale of our ambition to reduce sugar is unrivalled anywhere in the world, which means the UK food industry has a unique opportunity to innovate and show the rest of the world how it can be done. I believe reducing sugar in the nation’s diet will be good for health and ultimately good for UK food business.

“We can’t duck the fact a third of children are leaving primary school overweight or obese and obesity generally is having a profound effect, not just on the costs for the health service, but on the overall health of the nation. Our economy is affected as obesity can lead to long term health problems that result in time off work.”

The PHE guidelines are based on more than six months of meetings with the food industry and public health NGOs. More than 40 meetings were held with food suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and the eating out-of-home sector.

Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, said: “Overweight and obese children are likely to carry this health problem into adulthood, increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. If businesses achieve these guidelines, 200,000 tonnes of sugar could be removed from the UK market per year by 2020.”

A sugar tax on the UK soft drinks industry has already been announced and will come into force next April.