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UK children have already eaten 18 years’ worth of sugar by 10th birthday

Public Health England launches new campaign to enlist parents’ help to cut back on sugar

Caroline White

Wednesday, 02 January 2019

Children in the UK have already eaten 18 years’ worth of sugar by the time they reach their 10th birthday, says Public Health England (PHE) as its new Change4Life campaign gets under way today.

This latest campaign aims to help families to cut back on sugar intake and tackle growing rates of childhood obesity.

Sugar intake among children has fallen slightly in recent years, but they are still eating the equivalent of around eight excess sugar cubes daily, adding up to around 2,800 excess sugar cubes every year, says PHE.

Change4Life is encouraging parents to: ‘Make a swap when you next shop’ in a bid to cut children’s sugar intake from some products, such as flavoured yoghurts, drinks and breakfast cereals by half, by giving them healthier versions.

PHE suggests that parents try swapping a higher-sugar yoghurt- for example, a split-pot- for a lower sugar one, to halve their sugar intake from six cubes of sugar to three.

Other options include swapping a sugary juice drink for a no-added sugar one, to cut back from two cubes to half a cube, and substituting a higher-sugar content breakfast cereal, such as a frosted or chocolate cereal, for a lower sugar content cereal, to cut back from three cubes to half a cube per bowl.

While some foods and drinks remain high in sugar, many companies have reformulated products, so these swaps are a good place for families to start, suggests PHE.

Making these swaps every day could remove around 2,500 sugar cubes every year from a child’s diet, but swapping chocolate, puddings, sweets, cakes and pastries for healthier options such as malt loaf, sugar-free jellies, lower-sugar content custards and rice puddings would reduce their intake even more, it says.

Severe obesity in 10 to 11 year olds has now reached an all-time high. Overweight or obese children are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, increasing their risk of heart disease and some cancers. And more young people than ever are developing type 2 diabetes.

Too much sugar can also not only lead to painful tooth decay but also bullying and low self-esteem in childhood as a result of excess weight gain, says PHE.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said parents could protect their children from too much sugar by adopting the simple swaps recommended by Change4Life.

“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,” she said.

Families are encouraged to look for the Change4Life ‘Good Choice’ badge in shops and supermarkets, download the free Food Scanner app, or search Change4Life to help them find lower sugar options.

PHE is working with the food industry to remove 20 per cent of sugar from the products contributing the most to children’s sugar intakes by 2020.

In May 2018, it published a progress report, which showed an average two per cent reduction against a five per cent target in sugar across categories for retailers and manufacturers.

Breakfast cereals and yoghurts and fromage frais were among the categories meeting or exceeding the five per cent ambition, but some products in these categories are still high in sugar which is why Change4Life is making it easier for parents to find lower-sugar options.

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “Sugar is in so many of the products families love. When a can of coke contains the equivalent of nine cubes of sugar, you can see how easy it is for a child to reach and exceed their daily limit very quickly, and doing so, can lead to unpleasant consequences.

“Too much sugar can lead to tooth decay which nearly half of 15-year-olds have. It’s the number one reason why children age 5-9 are admitted to hospital, costing millions of pounds a year to treat.”

He added: “Campaigns like this play a crucial part in helping families make informed choices about the food they choose to eat, but sometimes it isn’t that easy. The information presented on product packaging can be misleading or hard to interpret so we need the government to bring in clear front of pack labelling on all foods, to help families make these important decisions.”

Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance lead, said: “Swapping high sugar food and drinks for healthier products will undoubtedly help to curb children’s sugar intake. But today’s shocking news that children have already exceeded the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18-year-old by the time they reach their tenth birthday highlights the need for more urgent action.”

She continued: “Today’s children are growing up in obesogenic environments, bombarded by adverts and promotions for junk food online, on TV and in our supermarkets.”

Government proposals to restrict junk food marketing, tackle price and place-based promotions and ensure calorie labelling in cafes and restaurants would go some way towards reversing obesity trends, but industry also had to do its bit, she said.

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