PHE calls for more sugar reduction

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Ice cream, breakfast cereals and biscuits are among the products targeted
Ice cream, breakfast cereals and biscuits are among the products targeted

Related tags Nutrition

Despite a positive overall picture and a “fabulous response” from some leading brands to its 20% cross-category sugar reduction target for 2020, Public Health England (PHE) has suggested that some categories are making more progress than others.

Although PHE has urged manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their products, it has recently extended its focus to total calories rather than sugar alone.

Introduced last year, the sugar reduction target is being applied to the nine food types that contribute most to children’s sugar intake: yogurts, biscuits, cakes, morning goods, puddings, icecream, breakfast cereals, confectionery, sweet spreads and sauces.

“The overall message is a very encouraging one, with many companies saying they are confident they can go beyond the 20% cut,”​ said PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie. “We might make more progress in other areas, while averaging 20% overall.”


Speaking at the Food Matters Live show in London in November last year, he quoted some upbeat statements of intent with regard to reformulation.

“McVitie’s is confident it will make the 20% reduction for its chocolate digestives, and Unilever has been doing fantastic work in ice cream,”​ he said.

Possibly in response to criticism of its relentless focus on sugar, PHE is extending its reformulation objectives to total calories. At the same time, it has been promoting salt reduction.

Selbie said that during January, PHE would present more figures on childhood obesity, launch a new Change4Life campaign, with the focus on snacking, and publish a new version of the nutrient profile model for advertising.

Nutrient profile

The model aims to differentiate products and their appropriateness for various types of advertising on the basis of their sugar, fat and salt content.

In March, PHE would report on whether industry had achieved a 5% cut in sugar for the year to August 2017, as the first stage in progress towards the 2020 target, he added.

April 2018 sees the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy. Selbie said: “I have no interest in extending the regulation. I think we’ll get farther, faster without it.”​ But PHE would be watching closely to see how the various food categories performed, he said.

At the end of November, Selbie hit the national headlines when he called for Coca-Cola to ban visits by its distinctive promotional red truck to some of the UK’s worst child health (including dental health) hotspots.

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