Public Health England have set out new voluntary guidelines to help reduce the amount of sugar in foods aimed at children.
They want to limit sugar intake by 2020, with recommended sugar limits released for 9 particular foods.
Limits on foods
The 9 foods which have been singled out by PHE include biscuits, yoghurts, and breakfast cereals. With targets on these groups, the aim is to reduce the amount of sugar that children are getting from those foods in particular by at least 20% by 2020. In order to stay on target, they are also aiming to get a 5% reduction in the first year of the programme. Once the ball is rolling, it is hoped that the rest of the reduction will be easy to achieve.
The health body has set out plans which should help those working in ingredients jobs figure out how they can meet these new targets.
It should not come as a shock to any manufacturers, as there have already been challenges to all areas of the food and drink industry to start reducing the amount of sugar that children are consuming. This has included strong guidance on foods which are aimed at children, particularly those which used branded packaging featuring children’s characters.
Excess sugar in childhood (and later in life) can be a major contributing factor for obesity, which comes along with a raft of other problems – including a higher risk of cancer later in life. Alison Cox, the Director for Cancer Prevention with Cancer Research UK, is happy to see the new guidelines being recommended.
“Without action, the problem is only going to get worse, so it’s vital this new programme works towards the goal of slashing the amount of sugar hidden in our food,” she said.
Action going forwards
Those who make food for children have been advised of three major ways in which they can start to reduce sugar in processed food. These are as follows:
1. To change recipes so that sugar levels are lower
2. To reduce the portion sizes or calories of single serving products
3. To use marketing to encourage consumers to buy lower sugar or no added sugar products
“If industry can’t make this work, the NHS will struggle to deal with the obesity crisis we’re hurtling towards,” said Cox. “But this doesn’t have to be the case and we can’t afford to get this wrong. We hope to see companies cutting down on sugar and portion sizes over the coming years to play their part in improving our health.”
As things stand, sugar intake across the population is higher than the recommended level. Children suffer the most, with the average child eating double the recommended maximum. This is obviously creating a huge risk for obesity, as well as other health problems, both now and later in life.
This is something that must be taken into account during new product development, as well as considered for existing products that contain high levels of sugar.
“These guidelines are an important opportunity for industry to play their part in preventing people from developing cancers,” said Cox. “We believe a 20% cut in sugar by 2020 is both achievable and powerful.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, who is the chief nutritionist for PHE, thinks that 200,000 tonnes could be removed from the UK market per year as they approach the 2020 deadline.
“Levels of obesity are higher in children from deprived backgrounds. Tackling the amount of sugar we eat is not just a healthy thing to do, but an issue of inequality for many families,” she says.