The maximum recommendation for free sugar consumption is 5% of our daily energy intake.1

A review of the evidence showed that excess sugar intake is associated with a greater risk of tooth decay. Worryingly, tooth decay is now a leading cause of hospital admissions for children.

Children and teenagers currently consume two to three times more sugar than is recommended. Sugar-sweetened drinks contribute the most amount of sugar to our diets yet contain no nutritional value. These drinks are linked to weight gain in children and are associated with Type 2 diabetes.

Today, 31% of children aged 2 to 15, 58% of women and 65% of men are classed as either overweight or obese2, and almost 3.5 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes, 90% of which is Type 2.3

Our desire for sweet-tasting food is exploited by the food and drink industry. We now live in an ‘obesogenic’ environment surrounded by an abundance of appealing, cheap, palatable and energy-dense food.

The most effective approach to reducing sugar intake across the population is through product reformulation. If manufacturers reduce the amount of sugar in their products it will help take responsibility away from individuals to change their dietary behaviours, which can be really difficult. If reformulation happens gradually, it would be an unobtrusive measure that people are less likely to notice.

The government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy, a tax that will be applied to manufacturers from 2018 if their products contain more than 5% sugar, was confirmed in March 2017 and over the last year we’ve started to see real action. Tesco have reduced the sugar in their own-brand drinks to below the levy threshold and Ribena, Lucozade and other manufacturers have pledged to follow suit.

However, to tackle rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay effectively, we need a whole-systems approach that targets sugar and fat reduction in products and extends beyond the responsibility of the individual to the government and food and drink industry.

Sugar awareness week is 15–21 May

References

  1. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Carbohydrates and Health. 2015.
  2. Health and Social Care Information Centre. Health Survey for England 2014: Health, social care and lifestyles. 2014.
  3. Diabetes UK. Diabetes Prevalence 2015. 2015.