The government has been urged to go “further and faster” to bring in strong measures to reduce childhood obesity after food businesses failed to reach their first year target for sugar reduction.
Public Health England’s (PHE) first assessment of progress on the government’s sugar reduction programme showed a 2% decrease in sugar against a 5% first year target.
Just three of the eight specified product categories – breakfast cereals, yoghurts and sweet spreads and sauces – hit the 5% target. Ice creams and sugar confectionery saw small reductions while there was no change in sugar levels in biscuits and chocolate confectionery, and a 1% increase in puddings.
PHE was unable to provide any measure of progress at all for the out of home sector, citing limitations with the data.
Its own analysis of products likely to be consumed in one go showed that foods such as cookies and muffins contained on average double the calories out of home as those produced by retailers and manufacturers.
The findings have led to accusations from other sectors of the food industry that foodservice companies are not pulling their weight. Food and Drink Federation director of corporate affairs, Tim Rycroft, said the out of home sector “must show a greater commitment to engaging with this programme”.
Health campaigners were also critical of a general lack of progress from food brands. Although the National Obesity Alliance noted that some brands were “stepping up to play their role in improving children’s health” by meeting or exceeding the initial 5% target, it said it was “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”.
It added that “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”.
Campaigners calling for tougher measures were given additional ammunition by results showing that sugar has been reduced by 11% by retailers and manufacturers in drinks included in Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which came into force in April.
Action on Sugar has responded to the first year results by launching a seven point plan for tackling obesity including an energy density levy of at least 20% on confectionery products and mandatory colour-coded nutritional labelling on product packaging and out of home menus.
The government is due to update its obesity strategy later this year.
*For more detailed analysis of the first year sugar results read Monday’s Footprint Premium