A campaign group has been formed to reduce the amount of sugar added to food and soft drinks in an effort to tackle obesity and diabetes in the UK.
Action on Sugar has been set up by the team behind Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), which has pushed for cuts to salt intake since the 1990s.
The new group aims to help people avoid “hidden sugars” and get manufacturers to reduce the ingredient over time.
Sugar is a widespread presence in our food and it’s often found in unexpected places, for example a can of cola contains nine teaspoons of sugar. Some tins of tomato soup and bottles of flavoured water have four teaspoons of sugar crammed inside. And seemingly healthy fat free yoghurt often has a high sugar content.
The primary concern is obesity- being high in sugar also means being high in calories.
Nearly two thirds of people in the UK are overweight or obese – leading to other health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Some argue that the problems with sugar are even deeper than the calorie content, and that high doses of the sweet stuff can increase the risk of diseases such as a fatty liver.
The cmapaigners believe that a 20% to 30% reduction in three to five years is within reach.
Like Cash, Action on Sugar will set targets for the food industry to add less sugar bit by bit so that consumers do not notice the difference in taste.
It says the reduction could reverse or halt the obesity epidemic and would have a significant impact in reducing chronic disease in a way that “is practical, will work and will cost very little”.
The group listed flavoured water, sports drinks, yoghurts, ketchup, ready meals and even bread as just a few everyday foods that contain large amounts of sugar.
Action on Sugar chairman Graham MacGregor, who is professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and set up Cash in 1996, said: “We must now tackle the obesity epidemic both in the UK and worldwide.
“This is a simple plan which gives a level playing field to the food industry, and must be adopted by the Department of Health to reduce the completely unnecessary and very large amounts of sugar the food and soft drink industry is currently adding to our foods.”
Well known food and drink products and their sugar content:
- Starbucks caramel frappuccino with whipped cream with skimmed milk (tall): 273kcal; 11 teaspoons of sugar
- Coca Cola Original (330ml): 139kcal; 9 teaspoons of sugar
- Muller Crunch Corner Strawberry Shortcakre Yogurt (135g): 212kcal; 6 teaspoons of sugar
- Yeo Valley Family Farm 0% Fat Vanilla Yogurt (150g): 120kcal; 5 teaspoons of sugar
- Kellogg’s Frosties with semi-skimmed milk (30g): 4 teaspoons of sugar
- Glaceau Vitamin Water, Defence (500ml): 4 teaspoons of sugar
- Heinz Classic Tomato Soup (300g): 171kcals; 4 teaspoons of sugar
- Ragu Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce (200g): 80kcals; 3 teaspoons of sugar
- Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Crunchy Oat Granola Cinnamon Bars (40g): 186kcal; 2 teaspoons of sugar
- Heinz Tomato Ketchup (15ml): 18kcal; 1 teaspoon of sugar
Source: Action on Sugar
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, said: “Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes no feeling of satiety. Aside from being a major cause of obesity, there is increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver.”