Children 'Exceed Sugar Consumption Limit by Age 10'

Peter Russell

January 02, 2019

Children in the UK have already exceeded the maximum recommended intake of sugar for an 18-year-old by the time they reach their tenth birthday, health experts said in a New Year warning.

Public Health England (PHE) said the figure was based on children's total sugar consumption from the age of 2.

Parents should be encouraged to swap high-sugar items in their shopping basket for healthier alternatives to help tackle the growing problem of obesity, it said.

The Obesity Health Alliance said the amount of sugar consumed by children was "shocking" and called for concerted action by the food industry and restrictions on junk food marketing. Other public health experts called for a tax on sugar.

Childhood Obesity Concerns

Although children's sugar intake declined slightly in recent years, PHE said the average child still consumed the equivalent of around 8 excess sugar cubes each day, or more than 2800 excess sugar cubes each year.

With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, PHE acknowledged that tackling obesity required wider action. It said it was working with the food industry to remove 20% of sugar from products contributing the most to children's sugar intakes by 2020.

A first-year progress report by PHE in May 2018 showed an industry wide average 2% reduction in sugar. While breakfast cereals, yoghurts, and fromage frais were among the categories meeting or exceeding the 5% ambition, it acknowledged that some products in these categories were still high in sugar.

Supermarket Swap

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, called on parents to play their part in reducing the amount of sugar in their children's diet. "To make this easier for busy families, Change4Life is offering a straightforward solution – by making simple swaps each day, children can have healthier versions of everyday foods and drinks, while significantly reducing their sugar intake.

PHE said parents could try swapping:

  • A higher-sugar yoghurt, such as a 'split-pot' for a lower sugar one, to halve their sugar intake from 6 cubes of sugar to 3

  • A sugary juice drink for a no-added sugar juice drink, to cut back from 2 cubes to half a cube

  • A higher-sugar breakfast cereal, including 'frosted' or chocolate cereal, for a lower sugar cereal, to cut back from 3 cubes to half a cube per bowl

Making these swaps every day could remove the equivalent of around 2500 sugar cubes per year from a child’s diet, according to PHE. However, swapping chocolate, puddings, sweets, cakes and pastries for healthier options such as malt loaf, sugar-free jellies, lower-sugar custards and rice puddings would reduce their intake even further, it said.

'National Action is Needed'

June O’Sullivan, CEO of London Early Years Foundation, commented: "It's no surprise that 10-year-olds in the UK have consumed 18 years' worth of sugar given that almost a quarter of British children are overweight by the time they start primary school."

She added: "Young children are very quickly affected by adult decisions and it remains imperative that parents play their part by making more informed choices when out shopping.

"However, there still needs to be a national coherent, connected and well-communicated government strategy shaped around taxation, legislation, education, physical exercise and behavioural change if we are to stop this tide of obesity for the sake of our children."

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said clear front-of-pack labelling on products was needed as existing information could be "misleading or hard to interpret".

Kawther Hashem, a registered nutritionist, and researcher at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London, agreed: "Encouraging parents to halve their children's sugar intake from everyday food and drink products is applaudable and we fully support the campaign.

"However, if we are to curb the UK's escalating childhood obesity epidemic then the Government must enforce more hard-hitting tactics such as mandatory uniform-coloured coded labelling on front of packs, product reformulation with a 50% reduction in sugar across all products, a tax on confectionery, and ensure that only healthy products are marketed and advertised."

Caroline Cerny from the Obesity Health Alliance commented: "Government proposals to restrict junk food marketing, tackle price and place-based promotions and ensure calorie labelling in cafes and restaurants will, if fully implemented, make progress towards reversing our current worrying obesity trends. But the food industry must also do their bit, cutting sugar levels from their products in line with Government’s reformulation programme."


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