Soft drink giants must stop dragging their heels and commit to minimising sugar as councils warn shoppers are unwittingly buying products laden in calories.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales – who are responsible for public health – says manufacturers should be going “further and faster” with reducing sugar in popular drinks.
LGA research found some cans of fizzy drink contained up to twice the recommended daily sugar limit, while some fruit juice drinks and ginger beers commonly sold in supermarkets contain more sugar than cola drinks.
An average-sized (330 ml) can of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer contained 12 teaspoons of sugar – double the World Health Organisation’s 25 grams recommended daily sugar limit.
Ocean Spray “Cranberry Classic” juice drink was found to have 11 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres; Pomegreat ‘super juice’ drink, meanwhile, had 12.1 grams (which it says are from ‘natural’ fruit); while full-sugar coke had 10.6 grams.
The LGA is calling for all manufacturers to step up and follow the lead of those which have led the way on sugar reduction. For example, Britvic, which makes Robinsons, J2O, Tango and Fruit Shoot, has committed to reduce average calories per serving by 20 per cent within five years.
The call comes as latest figures reveal the NHS is spending over £1.5 million an hour on diabetes, and more than 3.5 million children are now classed as overweight or obese.
Under-10s get almost a fifth of their sugar intake from soft drinks and for 11 to 18-year-olds, that figure is nearly a third. Five-year-olds who are overweight at primary school are four times more likely to be obese a decade later than ‘healthy’ weight children.
In addition to a commitment from manufacturers to reduce sugar, the LGA is calling for a slice of existing VAT raised on sugary drinks, sweets, crisps, and takeaway food to be invested in preventative schemes like leisure centres, exercise classes and free swimming. It is warning that without action being taken, health service costs will be driven up by billions of pounds.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:
“It is wholly unacceptable for one normal-sized can of soft drink to contain 12 teaspoons of sugar – double the recommended daily limit. Products like these are fuelling the obesity crisis and helping wean a generation of overweight children.
“Some firms are showing willing when it comes to reducing sugar – but others are simply dragging their heels. They need to go further, faster. We are calling on the sector as a whole to step up and show more corporate responsibility.
“In many cases, people are unaware of exactly how much sugar these fizzy drinks contain. Manufacturers must also provide clearer, larger and more prominent labelling which spells out the sugar content. It is crucial to tackle obesity at an early age. Overweight five-year-olds are four times more likely to be obese than their healthy weight counterparts.
“Investing in obesity prevention is the key. Councils are already taking action locally to tackle obesity, but would be able to significantly ramp up these efforts, benefiting millions more, under the LGA’s plans for a fifth of existing VAT raised from sugary drinks, crisps, takeaways and sweets to go to council-run grassroots initiatives. Local authorities are currently commissioning weight management services, exercise referral schemes and extending the offer of free or reduced-cost sport – for example swimming – and leisure facilities.
“Additional funding would enable us to do so much more. This would help transform the lives of the millions of overweight or obese children in this country which would more than pay for itself by reducing the huge cost to the public purse of obesity.”