According to a new study, Action on Sugar, compiled by Queen Mary University of London and published by BMJ Open, almost all (97%) of cakes and 74% of biscuits have a high, or ‘red’, label for sugar content.
The report found that the average sugar content in cakes was 36.6g/100g coupled with a large variation in sugar content between different categories of cakes.
On average, Battenberg (56.4g/100g) contained the highest amounts of sugar, followed by Genoa (45.9g/100 g) and red velvet cakes (44.2g/100g), while blueberry muffins (24.6g/100g) contained the lowest amount of sugar.
On the biscuit side, the average sugar content was 30.0g/100g. On average, iced biscuits (43.5g/100g) contained the highest amounts of sugar and shortbread biscuits (17.5g/100g) contained the lowest. There was a large variation in sugar content within the same category of biscuits, e.g. among breakfast biscuits, ranging from 12.0 to 30.9g/100g.
The study also highlighted a lack of action on behalf of some manufacturers, as reported by Public Health England recently. Lotus Bakeries increased sugar sold on average in their biscuits by 3.7%, Tesco (2.6% increase), Fox’s Biscuits (1.3% increase), Pladis UK/McVitie’s (1.3% increase) and Mondelēz (1.0% increase) thus all failing to meet the 5% sugar reduction target. In cakes, Tesco (4.0% increase) and Sainsbury’s (0.6% increase) also increased the amount of sugar sold through cakes instead of meeting the 5% reduction target.
The report praised the companies that made reductions in the amount of sugar sold through their products. Those exceeding the 5% target included Asda (-22.9% decrease) and Waitrose (-27.0% decrease), while General Mills (-8.8%), the Co-operative (-8.0%) and Asda (-5.2%) reduced sugar sold through biscuits.
Kawther Hashem, co-author of the study and registered nutritionist, for Action on Sugar at Queen Mary University of London, said: “This research clearly shows the levels of sugar and calories in products can be reduced since there was a large variation in sugar and calorie content within the same category of cakes and biscuits, yet worryingly not all manufacturers are complying. If some manufacturers can produce chocolate cake bars with 22% fewer calories per 100g, so can others.”
Graham MacGregor, co-author of the study and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and Chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “Large amounts of cakes and biscuits are consumed in the UK, so a reduction in the amount of sugar and calorie content could play an important role in helping prevent obesity and tooth decay. The majority of the food and drink industry in the UK have asked the government for a more robust and mandatory programme of reformulation. It is a tragedy for our children that this has not been done.”