“We can’t duck the fact a third of children are leaving primary school overweight or obese and obesity generally is having a profound effect, not just on the costs for the health service, but on the overall health of the nation. Our economy is affected as obesity can lead to long term health problems that result in time off work,” said Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of PHE.

That’s why Public Health England announced today new guidelines for industry to reduce sugar in everyday foods eaten by children.

They say UK businesses could be global leaders in kids health, removing 200,000 tonnes of sugar per year by 2020 if they innovate their products and reduce sugar by 20%.

It will give business a competitive advantage in a market increasingly worried about their health and actively choosing products low in sugar. And give more kids the chance to grow up healthier.

In a market where 28.2% of kids aged 2 to 15 are classed as either overweight or obese, changes like these could make a real difference.

What has PHE recommended?

PHE has recommended sugar reductions in nine highly consumed food groups, including biscuits, breakfast cereals and yogurt, as well as how the reductions could be achieved by the food industry.

The three approaches the food industry can take to reduce sugar are:

  • Reformulate products to lower the levels of sugar present;
  • Reduce the portion size, and/or the number of calories in single-serve products; or
  • Shift consumer purchasing towards lower/no added sugar products

PHE says they will judge the success of the sugar reduction programme by measuring the net amount of sugar removed from key food categories. Their main aim is to encourage the industry to go further and faster in sugar reduction in order to improve health outcomes.

With obesity waging war on the UK’s kids, there couldn’t be a more pressing priority.

PHE’s Chief Nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, thinks so, adding “overweight and obese children are likely to carry this health problem into adulthood, increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Tackling the amount of sugar we eat is not just a healthy thing to do, but an issue of inequality for many families [as] levels of obesity are higher in children from deprived backgrounds. If businesses achieve these guidelines, 200,000 tonnes of sugar could be removed from the UK market per year by 2020.”

So too does Public Health Minister, Nicola Blackwood saying, “this Government believes in taking a common-sense approach to improving public health and that includes changing the addictive relationship our children have with sugar. Many companies have already taken impressive steps to rise to this challenge but it’s important that everyone steps up. We should seize this unique opportunity to be global leaders in food innovation.”

The PHE guidelines are based on more than six months of detailed engagement with the food industry and public health NGOs. This included more than 40 meetings with food suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and the eating out of home sector, representing fast food, coffee shops, family restaurants, entertainment venues and pub chains.

The PHE’s full guidance can be downloaded here. Sugar reduction is part of a wider PHE led food reformulation programme. This includes work already underway with industry to encourage progress to meet salt reduction targets developed for 2017.

Later in 2017, PHE will begin work to scope its approach to calorie reduction, aimed primarily at the food categories not covered by the sugar reduction programme. After the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition review on fats is completed in 2018, PHE will consider including saturated fat in the programme.

About Ali Morrow

Ali Morrow is the head of editorial and strategy for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.