Industry fail to meet targets for Public Health England’s Sugar Reduction Programme

Industry fail to meet targets for Public Health England’s Sugar Reduction Programme

Public Health England has published it’s first year report on the results from the Sugar Reduction Programme, which challenged all sectors of the food industry to reduce by 20% by 2020 the level of sugar in the categories that contribute most to the intakes of children up to 18 years. The first year target for the programme was a 5% reduction.

The Sugar Reduction Programme formed as part of the core commitments to tackling childhood obesity, as outlined in the Government’s ‘Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action’ in 2016. Among the categories included in the programme were biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolate confectionery, ice cream, lollies and sorbets, puddings, sweet spreads and sauces, sweet confectionary and yogurts and fromage frais.

Sugar Reduction Programme: Year 1 results:

Overall, the results show a very mixed picture, with some progress in some food and beverage categories, whilst others are failing to meet the targets:

  • Three categories have made the 5% target, but there has only been a 2% reduction in across the board
  • Two categories (biscuits and chocolate confectionary) have made no progress and one (puddings) has increased sugar content. This is particularly concerning the high density of sugar in these products and the proportion they contribute to children’s free sugar intake.
  • Of the top 20 brands, ranked by total sugar sales in year 1:
    • Only 33% showed a decrease in the sugar content
    • 56% showed no change in the sugar content a
    • 12% showed an increase in the sugar content

Some of the food and beverage categories have risen to the challenge and made an important reduction in the sugar content of their products, which will have a knock-on effect in the amount of sugar children consume. However, this impact will be limited by the lack of co-operation from other categories in the programme.

It is disappointing to see a lack of progress across the board over the past year in reducing sugar content of popular foods, however these targets were voluntary and manufacturers were not binded to meeting these targets. Therefore, one could argue it is no surprise that there has been a lack of co-operation from some manufacturers, particularly those producing biscuits and chocolate confectionery. We need much more bold action to ensure programmes such as these have a positive impact on public health and childhood obesity. If we look at the significant amount of reformulations found following the upstream approach of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, in order to achieve the same results Public Health England may need to change their tactics for the programme in light of these year one results.


Commenting on the results, Duncan Selbie, chief executive at Public Health England, said:
“We have seen some of the food industry make good progress, and they should be commended for this. We also know that further progress is in the pipeline. 

However, tackling the obesity crisis needs the whole food industry to step up, in particular those businesses that have as yet taken little or no action.”


Commenting on the results, Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of over 40 health charities, campaign groups and academics (of whom Food Active is a member) said:

“These results show a very mixed picture. Some brands have managed to meet or exceed the initial 5% target, stepping up to play their role in improving children’s health. However it’s very worrying that the majority of the top 20 highest selling, sugary brands  have failed to make any progress or have even increased their sugar content.

“This disappointing lack of progress across the board means it’s now more important than ever that the Government goes further and faster to bring in strong measures to reduce childhood obesity and get tougher on those companies who are not set to meet the 20% target. We have seen the success of the soft drinks industry levy in turbo-charging reformulation in sugary soft drinks.  We also know that stronger marketing restrictions, including a 9pm watershed on TV, would help protect children from relentless exposure to junk food, and encourage manufacturers to make their foods healthier. Now is the time for the Government to protect our children’s health with a truly world leading obesity plan.”

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