Have sugar levels fallen in our food?

Jamie’s Head of Nutrition, Jenny Rosborough, reveals whether current government measures to reduce sugar in our food are making a difference

Right now, one in three children starts secondary school above a healthy weight,¹ and almost a quarter of 5-year-olds have tooth decay.²

Last year, the government asked all sectors of the food industry to reduce the level of sugar in their products by at least 20% before 2020.³ This included a call for a 5% reduction within the first year of the initiative.

Today the results from the first 12 months have been released…

What is the government’s aim?

Nine food categories – the biggest contributors of sugar to our kids’ diets – are covered by this initiative: breakfast cereals, yoghurts, biscuits, cakes, confectionery, morning goods (for example, pastries), puddings, ice cream and sweet spreads.

Companies can reduce the amount of sugar they sell in three ways: reducing sugar levels within products (reformulating), reducing portion size, or by directing consumers towards lower-sugar alternatives.

Has it worked?

Today, the disappointing year-one results have been announced. On average, retailers and manufacturers have only made a 2% reduction in sugar (compared to the 5% target); while the sugar in soft drinks came down by 11% ahead of the soft drinks industry levy introduced earlier this year. It’s still early days, but we need the food industry to make much more progress to really have a positive impact on child health.

How are we reducing sugar at Jamie Oliver?

Here at Jamie Oliver, we passionately believe that reformulation is a powerful way to improve public health. Adjusting the nutrient content in products has a universal impact on everyone’s diets – without us having to make big changes to what we eat. We saw this happen successfully a few years ago when salt was reduced across the food chain, lowering average intakes by 11% between 2005 and 2014,⁴ with a correlating fall in population blood pressure.⁵

We’ve reduced the amount of sugar sold in desserts at Jamie’s Italian by approximately 15% during the first year of the government’s reformulation programme – well over the recommended 5%. Our ambition is to continue dropping the sugar and calorie level of our desserts, without compromising on flavour or quality. Our award-winning healthy kids’ menu, full of fresh, tasty and nutritious meals, is voted best on the high street.

What needs to happen now?

We need all manufacturers and restaurant owners to get onboard. We need to reduce the amount of sugar and sweetness in our food, across the whole industry. Crucially, this means the government must set meaningful sanctions for those who don’t reach the target.

As more brands reduce sugar levels and the overall sweetness in products drops, it’s likely that people’s palates will begin to adapt and accept less sweet flavours. If public tastes change, we’ll be able to reduce the sugar content of our recipes and products even further in the future, while still giving customers exactly what they want.

By far the most successful reformulation to date has been in soft drinks, largely because the industry had a strong impetus to act, and act quickly. This just goes to show that reformulation can be an amazing tool the government can use to put kids health at the top of their agenda. Big business sometimes needs a level playing field in place before real change can happen, and mandatory reformulation does just that.

Find out more

Sugar reduction and reformulation is a really important part of our current obesity plan with the intention of improving the overall nutritional value of our food. You can read Jamie’s full obesity plan here.

¹ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action
²https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/child-oral-health-applying-all-our-health/child-oral-health-applying-all-our-health
³https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sugar-reduction-achieving-the-20
⁴https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/685359/Calorie_reduction_The_scope_and_ambition_for_action.pdf
⁵https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987732/
⁶https://www.soilassociation.org/our-campaigns/outtolunch/out-to-lunch-2017-league-table/