UK food and drink companies are being asked to cut the amount of sugar in the foods most eaten by children by 20%.
During a briefing attended by businesses, charities, campaign groups and health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Public Health England (PHE) asked the industry to reformulate products by 2020.
PHE said it would support the reduction by “setting clear targets, close monitoring and the publication of transparent and comparable data”.
PHE said it expected all sectors of the food and drink industry, including restaurants, cafes, pubs and takeaways, to take part in the programme.
Hunt was reported by The Times as saying: “Doing nothing is not an option. You want to be on the right side of this debate.”
Duncan Selbie, PHE chief executive, said: “It’s shocking that a third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese. We need take action now to ensure more children do not continue down that path into adulthood and suffer serious health complications as a result.
“What’s in our food and drink clearly affects our health and the food and drink industry can be a powerful influence on what we eat. We’re pleased to be leading together on what we believe will be the most extensive, formal and structured programme of food reformulation anywhere in the world.”
The programme, part of the government’s childhood obesity plan, is seeking a 5% sugar reduction in year one and a fifth by 2020. It is running in parallel with existing salt reduction targets for 2017. Next year a similar reduction timetable will be developed for calories and saturated fats could be included.
The categories covered by the programme will be breakfast cereals, confectionary, ice cream, yoghurts, morning goods, sweet spreads, biscuits, cakes and puddings.
“In a commitment to accountability and transparency, PHE will publish regular progress reports,” said PHE. “The government will use these reports to decide whether it is satisfied with how much progress has been made and whether other levers are needed.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.