Published today, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology study found that reducing the free sugar content in sugar-sweetened drinks (including fruit juices) in the UK by 40% over five years – without replacing them with any non-nutritive sweeteners – could also prevent 300,000 cases of type 2 diabetes over two decades.
However, Tim Rycroft, corporate affairs director at the Food and Drink Federation, said “the rate and scale of sugar reductions advocated are fanciful, not least because authors reject the use of low calorie sweeteners”.
Rycroft called for “evidence-based, real-world solutions” to tackle obesity, and said the food and drink industry had a proud record of gradually removing calories from products, including those from sugars, by updating recipes and limiting portions.
“Thanks to product innovation from industry, there is more and more choice of no and low-sugar soft drinks. This segment already represents 60% of the soft drinks market and is growing.”
Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, said that the hypothetical claims made in the study ran contrary to the evidence – which was that sugar consumption in the UK had been declining for many years, particularly from soft drinks.
He added that the soft drinks industry had reduced sugar intake by 7.5% in recent years and there were plans to reduce calories by a further 20% by 2020.
“There is also no evidence that a tax on soft drinks would have an impact on obesity. The soft drinks tax in Mexico has reduced average calorie intake by just six calories a day and sales in France are back to pre-tax levels,” he said.
Calculations in the Lancet study showed that a 40% reduction in free sugars added to sugar-sweetened drinks over five years would lead to an average reduction in energy intake of 38kcal a day by the end of the fifth year.
This would lead to an average reduction in body weight of 1.20kg in adults, resulting in a reduction in overweight and obese adults by approximately 0.5M and 1M respectively. This would in turn prevent between 274,000 and 309,000 cases of obesity-related type 2 diabetes over the next two decades.
The study found that if fruit juices were excluded from sugar-sweetened drinks, it would result in 300,000 fewer cases of overweight people and 800,000 fewer cases of obese individuals.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “The prime minister can no longer ignore the fact that the current nutrition policies are not working.
“We require a government-funded but independent nutrition agency, which can set mandatory targets with robust enforcement. In support of this, the British Retail Consortium is now calling for regulated sugar, fat and salt reduction targets.”