A study by Action on Sugar (AOS) has revealed huge variations in the amount of sugar in soft drinks and called on the government to take additional measures on top of the sugar levy to force retailers and suppliers to reduce sugar content.
The study, published in the BMJ Open today, shows the sugar content in carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages differed between various flavours and within the same type of flavour from 3.3g to 52.8g per 330ml - equivalent to 12 teaspoons.
On average, a can (330ml) of soft drink contained more than the entire maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake in the UK (30g: 7.5 teaspoons), with 55% exceeding the maximum daily recommendation. Almost three quarters (73%) of the products exceeded the maximum daily recommendation for free sugars intake for a child (24g/day).
On average, it said ginger beer contained the highest amounts of sugar and ginger ale the lowest.
Cola flavour drinks ranged from 32g to 37.3g/330ml, with supermarket own brands containing lower levels of sugars than branded products.
The study said owing to the huge volume consumed, even small reductions would have a significant impact on sugar and calorie intake of the population.
The authors claimed the findings demonstrated that the amount of sugar added to fizzy drinks could be reduced without technical issues and said there was an urgent need to reduce sugar by either setting incremental sugar reduction targets or ensuring the soft drinks sugar levy does result in reductions in sugar levels.
Although the report showed 142 out of the 169 products it featured would be hit by the sugar tax, due to come in in April 2018, it also called for all sugar-sweetened drinks to be reduced below a 5g/100ml threshold, as well as well as other measures including mandatory front of pack labelling of free sugars, public education, portion size reductions and warning labels.
“This study illustrates the huge contribution of sugar-sweetened drinks to our sugar intake, which is directly linked to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. We welcome the soft drinks industry levy and particularly the incentive it’s created to companies that want to avoid the levy by reducing the sugar levels to below 5g/100ml,” said AOS chairman Graham MacGregor.
“This has already resulted in Tesco reducing sugar in all its own brand soft drinks to below 5g/100ml. Suntory has also pledged that they will reduce sugar in all their sugar-sweetened drinks to below the lower band levy, this includes Lucozade and Ribena. Other supermarkets and branded companies must now follow suit, particularly Coca Cola and PepsiCo, as sugar-sweetened drinks are the main contributor to sugar intake in children and adolescents.”
British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington responded: “Since this data was collected in 2014, soft drinks companies have reduced their consumers’ sugar intake by 10%. In 2015, we also became the only food and drink category to set ourselves a calorie reduction target of 20% by 2020.”