Children's sugar intake equivalent to five doughnuts a day: Obesity Health Alliance

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Children in the UK are eating the equivalent of five doughnuts a day in sugar, according to the Obesity Health Alliance, as it calls on industry to reformulate its products.

The campaign group is made up of a coalition of 39 leading health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, including Action on Sugar, the British Medical Association and the Food Foundation.

According to statistics from the UK government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey , all age groups consume more sugar than the recommended 30 g of free sugars a day. This includes sugar that is added to food and drinks as well as those that occur naturally in foods such as honey and fruit.

But children aged 11- to 18-year-olds have the highest intake, eating an average of 73.2 g per day followed by 19- to 64-year-olds with 59.9 g per day.

The coalition is adamant that no single strategy will be enough to solve the UK’s obesity crisis, which has seen levels skyrocket in recent years - a mix of sugar taxes, industry reformulation and restrictions on junk food marketing are all needed, it says. 

In the UK, almost one in five children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, and this rises to one in three by the time they leave primary school.

According to Dr Modi Mwatsama from the Obesity Health Alliance, many people are not aware of the amount of sugar "hidden" in processed foods.

She said: “Most parents would never hand over 20 chocolate biscuits a day to their children, but with so much hidden sugar in our food and drink it can often be hard to know just how much children are consuming. That is why we are calling the food and drink industry to urgently comply with the Government’s reformulation programme.

“By reducing the amount of sugar found in everyday products, industry could help make a real difference in improving the health of our children. Industry has been successful in the past around reducing salt – let’s see the same with sugar.”

On Wednesday Nestle announced plans to cut 18,000 tonnes of sugar from its European portfolio by 2020, as part of a wider global reformulation plan.

This would be done through a variety of strategies, head of relations with European institutions Bart Vandewaetere told FoodNavigator, including replacing sugar for stevia, smaller portions and technical developments such as its novel method for restructuring sugar particles that allow for reductions of up to 40% in confectionery and chocolate.

But according to campaigners these voluntary commitments don't go far enough. European consumer rights groups BEUC is calling for mandatory targets.

"Policy-makers both in Brussels and other European capitals should set clear targets for sugar reduction. High sugar foodstuffs – such as soft drinks, confectionery, dairy products and breakfast cereals – should be first in line for binding cuts on sugar levels."

Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Industry must go past rhetoric to take genuine steps to help ensure that the food parents give their children and the food teenagers purchase for themselves is not crammed with sugar and other hidden dangers for their health.

We had a similar problem with salt a few decades ago, but the successful salt reduction strategy in England shows that we can successfully reduce hidden dangers in food whilst keeping food tasty and attractive for our children.”

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