UK-based campaign group Action on Sugar is calling for immediate reduction of sugar levels in all food and drink products after new research by the group revealed 'shockingly high and unnecessary' levels of sugar in carbonated drinks.
The survey analysed 232 sugar-sweetened drinks from leading UK supermarkets - finding that nine out of ten sugar sweetened carbonated drinks would receive a red label for high sugar content under traffic light labelling schemes.
Interestingly, however, the findings also revealed huge variations in the sugar content of very similar products - something that Action on Sugar says demonstrates that sugar levels can come down significantly in soft drinks without it drastically affecting the taste.
"Added sugars are completely unnecessary in our diets and are strongly linked to obesity and type II diabetes, as well as to dental caries; which remains a major problem for children and adults," warned Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar. “We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to set incremental targets for sugar reduction now – and to start with these sugary drinks."
MacGregor noted that a similar approach has already successfully reduced salt intake in the UK, with people are consuming 15% less salt than they were 10 years ago.
"Now [they] prefer less salty foods, this policy is estimated to be saving 9,000 lives a year, plus healthcare savings of £1.5billion a year. It is now time to do the same for sugar," he said.
The worst offenders
According to the survey findings, drinks containing the highest amount of sugar include Old Jamaica Ginger Beer, Sainsbury's Cloudy Lemonade, Club Orange, Fanta Grape Flavoured Drink, Fentimans Traditional Curiosity Cola.
The data also shows that 'upmarket' and premium soft drinks - including brands such as San Pellegrino and Fentimans - contain more sugar than a can of Coca-Cola, while two-thirds of all ginger beer on the UK market also contains more sugar than Coca-Cola.
“People are drinking spoonfulls of sugar in their fizzy drinks; even seemingly healthier options such as elderflower can be loaded with sugars," said Kawther Hashem, nutritionist at Action on Sugar.
World cup worry
Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, noted that while the findings are troubling enough for public health in general, "they are doubly troubling since their publication coincides with the World Cup 2014, part-sponsored by soft drinks."
"We really must address the connotations sought by makers and sellers of oversweet, unhealthy food and drink products with superfit young men running around football fields staying fit, while the UK and much of the world sits, watches, imbibes soft drinks and puts on weight," said Lang.
"The flood of sugary drinks from so many sources which this report exposes simply must be reduced.”