The call follows the introduction of a new sugar and reformulation programme last month, which forms part of the government’s child obesity action plan.
All sectors of the food industry have been challenged to reduce overall sugar intakes by at least 20% by 2020, including a 5% reduction in year one.
Action on Sugar has conducted a survey which it said revealed “huge differences” in sugar levels between similar foods.
The product survey focused on foods commonly consumed by children including breakfast cereals, yogurts, biscuits, cakes, confectionery, pastries, ice creams and chocolate spreads.
It revealed vast differences between similar products and highlighted Asda Smart Price Vanilla Flavour Ice Cream (7.9g) which contained 46% less sugars compared to Waitrose Duchy Organic Vanilla Ice Cream (14.5g sugars per 100g).
It also said that Organix Goodies Gingerbread Men Biscuits (18.8g), that contain 38% less sugars versus McVitie’s Mini Gingerbread Men (30.4g sugars per 100g).
Action on Sugar said that reformulation, whereby the sugar and sweetness in products are gradually reduced, is by far the most important strategy to prevent obesity, providing the calorie content is also reduced. It also said that companies must also reduce portion size and shift purchasing patterns to healthier options.
If the industry fails to prove that a voluntary reformulation programme can work, mandatory targets would need to be introduced, it claimed.
Prime minister must fully support it
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “The Reformulation Plan is one of the most effective ways of reducing sugar and, if done properly, the UK will lead the world.
“We therefore urge the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to fully support it and commit the government to both fat reformulation and to start restrictions of marketing, advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods.”
Registered nutritionist Kawther Hashem, researcher at Action on Sugar, said: “Our survey clearly shows that companies can easily make products with much less sugar. Currently they are profiting from selling high sugar foods, which put children at risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.”
However, the industry has raised concern about the use of sweeteners to replace sugar, because of unsubstantiated fears from parents about their safety and use in children’s foods.
The food industry is also seeking greater clarity on the process for setting sugar reduction targets.