Food companies failing to reduce sugar in cookies and brownies

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages
Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Sugar

Call for UK government to publish its long-awaited Sugar Reduction Progress Report and announce new, tougher, comprehensive, regulatory measures to incentivise the industry to reduce sugar.

New data provided by Action on Sugar and Obesity Health Alliance has revealed huge variation in sugar content and portion size of popular cookies, brownies and doughnuts, leading to a call for the government to do more to tackle the issue.

Despite the government challenging the food industry in 2016 to reduce the overall sugar content of food products that contribute the most sugar to children’s intakes by 20% by 2020, this new shock data further proves that robust measures are now urgently needed to incentivise the food industry to reduce sugar, especially as obesity prevalence among primary school children is increasing, said the authors of the research.

Action on Sugar (based at Queen Mary University of London) and Obesity Health Alliance (an alliance of leading health organisations) claim to have exposed the huge variation in portion size and sugar content of popular ‘on the go’ sweet snacks sold in both retail and Out of Home – showing progress to reduce sugar is floundering.

Both groups of experts were among the 40 organisations that signed an open letter on 6 April to the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, calling on the government to stop delaying publication of the final Sugar Reduction Progress Report and use the forthcoming Health Disparities White Paper to set out the next stringent steps for the sugar reduction programme.

The said disincentivising food manufacturers (across all sectors) from producing increasingly sugary products is key to this and recommendations should include regulatory measures such as extending the soft drinks industry levy to the most sugary food categories or introducing a new duty on sugar paid for by manufacturers, as proposed by Henry Dimbleby in his 2021 National Food Strategy.

Product data summary

Focusing on the cakes and biscuits categories from the previous sugar reduction report that outlined industry targets and progress to date, the new survey showed many ‘on the go’ single-serve cookies, brownies and doughnuts remain dangerously high in sugar – with Aldi Specially Selected Triple Chocolate cookie (39g sugar per 80g serve) containing up to 10x teaspoons sugar, making it 50% sugar. That’s twice a child’s (aged 4-6) daily limit of sugar and the equivalent of eating 12 custard cream biscuits!  This is closely followed by Caffe Nero’s Belgian Chocolate Chip Brownie with a whopping 8 x teaspoons of sugar (31.2g of sugar per 67g serve).

Katharine Jenner, Director and Registered Nutritionist at Action on Sugar said: “The vital evidence of progress (or lack thereof) of the sugar reduction programme is being deliberately kept away from public scrutiny. However, it is clear from our product survey that a voluntary approach to reformulation is not working with most retailers and coffee shops failing to make any significant reductions. 

“These sugary products are enticingly placed near the tills and end of aisles for adults and children to grab ‘on the go’ with their daily coffee or sandwich, encouraging over consumption​.”

Sugar intake

Adults and children eat more calories from sugar than is recommended and this is a key driver of rising obesity levels, exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Reducing sugar consumption to recommended intakes could save the NHS £500m annually, prevent 4,100 premature deaths and avert approximately 200,000 cases of tooth decay. As most of the sugar we eat is already in the food we buy, but an interim programme report showed a reduction of just 3%. 

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