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Published On: Tue, Jun 3rd, 2014

The bitter truth about pledges to cut sugar

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sugar is the new tobaccoFood giants which promised to make products healthier under the Government’s trumpeted ‘responsibility deal’ have simply side-stepped their pledges, it has emerged.

Some of the world’s biggest firms have failed to reduce calories or sugar content in their most popular brands – including Coca Cola, Magnum ice cream and Kit Kat chocolate.

The Public Health Responsibility Deal, introduced by the Government in 2011, has been much criticised by health campaigners, who say it gives the food and drink industries carte blanche to regulate themselves.

Some 663 organisations are ‘partners’ in the responsibility deal, under which they have made variety of pledges covering marketing, labelling and workplace practices.

Thirty seven firms, including Coca Cola, Mars, Nestlé and PepsiCo, signed up to a ‘calorie reduction’ pledge.

Their promise included ‘supporting and enabling’ customers to eat and drink fewer calories through actions such as product/menu reformulation, reviewing portion sizes, education and information, and actions to shift the marketing mix towards lower calorie options’.

But it has emerged that some of the companies have not touched their main brands – instead focusing on reduced sugar in lesser-known products or altering labelling.

Campaigners called on ministers to abandon the voluntary system and instead introduce sugar reduction targets similar to those in place for salt.

Coca Cola has reduced the calories in its Sprite drink – but has refused to change its flagship product.

Unilever, which makes Wall’s and Ben & Jerry’s ice creams has reduced the number of calories in children’s ice creams but not in its normal range.

Nestlé has cut the calories in Aero and white Kit Kat Chunky bars but not in ordinary milk chocolate Kit Kats.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘The problem with the Responsibility Deal is that it is all voluntary.

‘As far as Coke is concerned it remains the same product it was 10 years ago — there doesn’t seem to have been any change at all.

‘We need targets. Unless we get the target we have no benchmark.’

Health experts have become increasingly concerned at the population’s intake of sugar – comparing it to tobacco in terms of its public health impact.

Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said in January: ‘Sugar is the new tobacco.

‘Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focused on profit not health.

‘Obesity and diabetes already cost the UK over £5billion a year. Without regulation, these costs will exceed £50billion by 2050.’

As part of its commitment to the calorie pledge, Coca Cola has cut the amount of sugar and calories in Glacéau vitaminwater and Sprite by 30 per cent.

But a 330ml can of Coca Cola still contains 35g – or nine teaspoons – of sugar.

A spokesman for Coca Cola GB said: ‘We have no plans to change Coca Cola. We know that people love it and we provide two great-tasting sugar-free, no calorie options in Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero, which together comprise more than 40 per cent of the cola we sell in the UK.’

Nestlé has reduced the number of calories in Aero and white KitKat Chunky bars by 5 per cent.

However, it has not reduced the number of calories in milk chocolate KitKat bars and other popular products such as Lions and Rolos.

Unilever, which owns Wall’s and Ben & Jerry’s, pledged to cut the number of calories in children’s ice creams, which now contain 110 or fewer calories per serving. Source:


It is also offering ‘smaller and lower calorie alternative choices’ such as mini Magnums. But ordinary Magnum bars and ice cream tubs from Ben & Jerry’s have not been changed.

A Unilever spokesman said: ‘Sugar plays an important role in ice cream, not only for taste but also for texture and structure. However, we have a programme in place that aims to gradually reduce sugar in our products whilst maintaining our high standards of product quality.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Many manufacturers and retailers are already taking sugar, fat and salt out of their products as a result of our Responsibility Deal, which is based on working collaboratively with industry rather than imposing unrealistic targets.

‘The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is currently undertaking a review of carbohydrates, and they are looking at sugar as part of this. Their draft report which is due to be published later this year will inform our future thinking.’




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