Manufacturers of confectionery, cereal, bread, cake and biscuits have been tasked with slashing the sugar content in their products by 20% in the next four years, following the official launch of the government’s new reduction and reformulation programme.

The 20% by 2020 initiative forms a key part of the government’s new Childhood Obesity Plan, which was published in August and includes a levy on sugar-added soft drinks.

Public Health England (PHE) said it would help manufacturers achieve the objective with clear targets, close monitoring and the publication of transparent and comparable data.

All sectors of the food and drink industry, including the out of home sector, should take part in the programme, which may eventually include targets on saturated fat, it added.

Speaking at the launch, PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “It’s shocking that a third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese. We need take action now to ensure more children do not continue down that path into adulthood and suffer serious health complications as a result.

“What’s in our food and drink clearly affects our health and the food and drink industry can be a powerful influence on what we eat. We’re pleased to be leading together on what we believe will be the most extensive, formal and structured programme of food reformulation anywhere in the world.”

PHE will lead a programme of significant meetings with industry from October 2016 to discuss category specific targets.

The categories will be:

  • breakfast cereals
  • confectionary
  • ice-cream
  • yoghurts and fromage frais
  • morning goods like croissants and puddings
  • sweet spreads
  • biscuits
  • cakes
  • puddings

The government’s consultation into the UK-wide Soft Drinks Industry Levy is set to close on 13 October. Around 2,000 independent retailers have registered their opposition to the plans via the #canthetax campaign, according to the NFRN.