PHE’s Change4Life campaign follows research that UK children consume at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming four or more, said the organisation.
As a result, children are eating three times the recommended amount of sugar.
Buns, cakes and pastries were identified as the worst offenders, contributing to 19.4% of children’s sugar intake from snacks a year. This was followed by biscuits, which contributed 17.1% to sugar intake.
More than a quarter (26.2%) of the sugar consumed by children in a year came from soft drinks, claimed PHE, of which 13.7% came from juice drinks and drinks with added sugar. Fizzy drinks contributed 8% to total sugar consumed.
Snacks consumed by children
PHE said: “Each year children are consuming almost 400 biscuits; more than 120 cakes, buns and pastries; around 100 portions of sweets; nearly 70 of both chocolate bars and ice creams; washed down with over 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.”
A full breakdown of the total sugar intake of children in the UK can be found in the box below.
PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said: “The true extent of children’s snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar. Children are having unhealthy snacks throughout the day and parents have told us they’re concerned.
“To make it easier for busy families, we’ve developed a simple rule of thumb to help them move towards healthier snacking – look for 100 calories snacks, two a day max.”
Change4Life will offer parents money-off vouchers to purchase healthier snack options, including malt loaf, lower sugar fromage frais and drinks with no added sugar.
Revise its childhood obesity strategy
Pressure group Action on Sugar (AOS) said the PHE’s findings on children’s daily sugar intake was shocking and urged the government to revise its childhood obesity strategy to help tackle the problem.
AOS chairman Graham MacGregor called for mandatory product reformulation, clear front-of-pack colour coded labelling and a ban on promotions of foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar.
He also called for tighter restrictions on marketing and advertising that could influence children’s food and drink preferences.
“It’s ludicrous that billions of pounds are being spent by food and drink manufacturers on such promotions and publicity which will simply outweigh the benefits of this campaign,” said MacGregor.
“While parents do have a responsibility to take control of their children’s snacking, so do food and drink manufacturers and the government.”
Meanwhile, a new smartphone app could help people switch to healthier foods.
Children’s sugar intake
National Diet and National Survey food group
Mean consumption of food/drink g/day
Sugar g /day
Mean consumption of food/drink g/year
Sugar g /year
% contribution to sugar intake from snacks
% contribution to sugar intake from whole diet
Buns, cakes, pastries
Fizzy drinks with added sugar
Other drinks with added sugar
TOTAL (food and drink)