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Reducing sugar intake in the UK

Posted on 10 January 2014 .
Tags: Michael Colborne, NDNS, National Diet and Nutrition Survey, nutrition, sugar

This week a number of public health campaigners announced the set up of a new campaign group, Action on Sugar. The goal of this campaign is to cut the sugar content of food and drinks in the UK by up to 30% in three to five years. But why should we worry about reducing the sugar content of what we eat and drink?

A high sugar intake increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and is linked to obesity, particularly in children. What’s more, a lot of the sugar we eat is hidden in foods like yogurts, canned soups and even bread. Lecturing people to avoid obvious sources of sugar, like super-sized chocolate bars, won’t do nearly as much to reduce sugar intake as we might think.

We know that sugar intake in the UK is too high. We’ve shown this through our own National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which we’ve been running since 2008.

Findings from the first three years of the survey (2008-2011) show that intakes of non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES), which are sugars found in confectionery and sugary drinks, exceeded the recommendation of providing 11% of food energy in almost all age groups. For adults (19-64 years), NMES provided 12.4% of food energy and intakes were even higher for children - 14.6% for those aged 4-10 years and 15.3% for those aged 11-18 years. These higher figures for children, particularly younger children, are worrying, given the links between sugar intake and child obesity.

This February, we will be publishing findings from the first four years (2008-2012) of NDNS. In this report we’ll be able to show where sugar comes from in people’s diets (e.g., soft drinks, cereals, etc.) and how intakes differ by sex and age. We’ll know if children still have high sugar intakes and if so, where in their diets they are getting this sugar from. Evidence like this will help public health campaigners, policy makers and food and drink manufacturers understand where sugar content in food and drink needs to be reduced. 

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