The food and drink industry is being urged to reduce the amount of sugar in their products as new calculations from the Obesity Health Alliance* show that 11 to 18 year old children are consuming, on average, the same amount of sugar as 20 chocolate chip biscuits a day[1].

The call comes as sugar is present in many of the food and drinks that children consume on a daily basis, making it difficult to consume less than the maximum daily recommendation for sugar. It also makes it hard for parents to know how much sugar their children are having.

The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of 39 leading health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, is urging the food and drink industry to comply with the Government’s reformulation programme to reduce the amount of sugar in food commonly eaten by children, by 20 per cent by 2020. Research has shown that reformulation programmes that reduce certain ingredients in products are likely to be one of the most effective ways to help people eat more healthily[2],[3].

Dr Modi Mwatsama, from the Obesity Health Alliance said:

“Most parents would never hand over 20 chocolate biscuits a day to their children, but with so much hidden sugar in our food and drink it can often be hard to know just how much children are consuming. That is why we are calling the food and drink industry to urgently comply with the Government’s reformulation programme.

“By reducing the amount of sugar found in everyday products, industry could help make a real difference in improving the health of our children. Industry has been successful in the past around reducing salt – let’s see the same with sugar”.

The figures, calculated from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey also show that on average all age groups are consuming more free sugars than the Government’s recommendation which is 30 grams of free sugars a day for over 11 year olds and adults (seven sugar cubes)[4] [5]. The highest intake is in 11 to 18 year olds (73.2 g/day), followed by 19 to 64 year olds (59.9 g/day) and then 4 to 10 year olds (53.5/day)[6]. Free sugars are any sugars added to food or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.

Consuming too much sugar is one the key drivers to the population becoming overweight or obese. Obese children are around five times more likely to become obese adults making them more likely to develop serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease, dental issues and associated mental health problems. Currently more than one in five children are overweight or obese when they start school, rising to more than one in three by the time they leave primary school.[7]

Sarah Toule, Head of Health Information at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

“It can often be hard to know exactly how much sugar children are having as it is hidden in so much of their food and drink.

“Overweight or obese children are more likely to be so as adults putting them at risk of 11 common cancers. In fact, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the best thing people can do to reduce their risk of cancer.

“The food and drink industry can play a vital role in helping tackle obesity rates by reducing the sugar content in their products and making the healthy choice the easy choice”.

No single solution will tackle obesity and other measures such as the soft drinks industry levy and closing loopholes to protect children from junk food marketing are needed to help make our children healthier now and in the future.

[1] Calculations for chocolate chip biscuits, 11 to 18 year olds eat on average 73.2g of sugar a day. A chocolate chip biscuit contains 3.6g of sugar. 73.2g / 3.6g = 20.3 biscuits.

[2] McKinsey Global Institute (2014). Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis

Scarborough P (2016). Translating the World Health Organization 25×25 goals into a United Kingdom context: The PROMISE study.

[4] National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2016): results from Year 5 and 6 (combined).

[5] SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report (2015),


[6] NDNS results from years 5 and 6 combined: appendices and tables, Trend table final, Table 3.7.

[7] Public Health England (2016), National Child Measurement Programme: Changes in children’s body mass index between 2006/7 and 2014/15