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Government plan to cut sugar misses 5% reduction target

The Government’s plan to cut sugar content in the food industry has missed its first year target, a progress report has revealed.

The sugar reduction plan, which the Government tasked to Public Health England, challenged the food industry to achieve a 5% reduction in the first year of the programme.

Despite only seeing a 2% cut, public health minister Steve Brine called the progress ‘encouraging’, while PHE said parts of the food industry ‘should be commended’.

But the BMA has said that the figures show a ‘very disappointing lack of progress’ and accused the Government of producing a ‘weak plan rather than the robust strategy promised’.

The Government first announced its plan to cut childhood obesity in 2016, tasking Public Health England with overseeing the programme to reduce sugar content.

In March last year PHE published guidelines for the total sugar levels per 100g, as well as for the calorie content of products likely to be consumed on a single occasion, designed to help the food sectors achieve a 20% reduction by 2020.

However, the progress report for 2016/17 has revealed that across eight of the 10 food categories, retailers and manufacturers have achieved a 2% reduction in total sugar and a 2% reduction in calories in products consumed on a single occasion.

BMA board of science committee chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: ‘These figures show a very disappointing lack of progress in tackling the massive problem of childhood obesity. Perhaps this is not surprising as the Government rowed back on its promises in 2016 and produced a weak plan rather than the robust strategy promised.

‘While there’s been limited progress in reducing sugar in some categories, overall it hasn’t even come close to meeting the target 5% reduction.’

Professor Kumar added that the plan is relying on manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the amount of sugar in their products, but that change would only come through a ‘mandatory approach backed up by regulation’.

Public health minister Steve Brine said: ‘We lead the world in having the most stringent sugar reformulation targets and it is encouraging to see that some progress has been made in the first year.

‘However, we do not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face. We are monitoring progress closely and have not ruled out taking further action.’

PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said: ‘We have seen some of the food industry make good progress, and they should be commended for this. We also know that further progress is in the pipeline.

‘However, tackling the obesity crisis needs the whole food industry to step up, in particular those businesses that have as yet taken little or no action.’

PHE also launched a campaign focused on reducing calorie intake earlier this year, as part of the crackdown on obesity.