Action on Sugar (AoS) analysed 232 sugar-sweetened drinks and declared that 79% contained six or more spoons of sugar and nine out of 10 were labelled with a red traffic light for sugar content. All the products scrutinised were sold in leading supermarkets, it added.
However, BSDA director general Gavin Partington responded: “Blinded by political zeal, these campaigners appear to have missed the 60% of soft drinks on the market which contain no added sugar.
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have also ignored the evidence that shows obesity arises from an imbalance of calories consumed and calories expended and is not caused by one particular ingredient.
“Soft drinks manufacturers have led the way over many years in providing an increasing range of low and no calorie drinks. It’s worth remembering that government figures show soft drinks contribute just 3% of calories to the average diet."
AoS did not just criticise big brands, highlighting that 63% of ginger beer drinks and some elderflower sparkling drinks contained more sugar than Coca-Cola.
Teenagers’ daily added sugar
Citing results from the latest National Diet Nutrition Survey (NDNS), which canvasses thousands of people across the UK, AoS said 16% of an adult’s daily added sugar content came from soft drinks. And soft drinks represented a third of teenagers’ daily added sugar content, according to the NDNS statistics.
Professor Graham MacGregor, who spearheads the AoS campaign, said: "Added sugars are completely unnecessary in our diets and strongly linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as to dental caries; which remain a major problem for children and adults.
“We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to set incremental targets for sugar reduction now – and to start with these sugary drinks. Replacing sugar with sweeteners is not the answer: we need to reduce overall sweetness so people’s tastes can adjust to having less sweet drinks.
“A similar approach has successfully reduced salt intake; people are consuming 15% less salt than they were 10 years ago, and now prefer less salty foods. This policy is estimated to be saving 9,000 lives a year, plus healthcare savings of £1.5bn a year. It is now time to do the same for sugar.”
Sarah Stanner, science programme manager at the British Nutrition Foundation, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We can't blame our obesity problem on one food/drink alone or indeed purely on our diets (inactivity plays a key role).”
She said products should be evaluated on all the nutrients in them, including fat and salt, not just sugar.
“We know from the NDNS that many people need to cut back on added sugar and as sugar containing drinks are a contributor they are one area that should be looked at in terms of reformulation,” she added.
“There are already lots of lower sugar/calorie and no calorie options available and these are clearly labelled. The key message for consumers is that such drinks shouldn’t be consumed too often.”
The Food Manufacture Group is holding a free one-hour obesity webinar, Obesity and health: the big fat, sugar and salt debate, to be broadcast at 11am GMT on Thursday July 3.
Panel members include professor MacGregor and professor Alan Jackson, director, National Institute for Health Research, Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.
Register for your free place here. There is no limit to delegate numbers and, once registered, delegates will be able to listen to the online event at any time after its first transmission.
Attendees will be able to submit questions for panel members during the broadcast or in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org.