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Stop hiding sugar reduction report and commit to more sugar industry reform

Children's Food Campaign


40 health organisations, academics and food groups are today (6 April) calling on the Government to stop delaying publication of the final report of the voluntary industry Sugar Reduction Programme


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40 health organisations, academics and food groups are today (6 April) calling on the Government to stop delaying publication of the final report of the voluntary industry Sugar Reduction Programme. The report is expected to provide further evidence of the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy since its introduction four years ago on this date, whilst also exposing a dismaying lack of progress in most other product categories covered by the voluntary reduction programme.

In the letter to Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid, organisations point to the very worrying recent increase in obesity prevalence amongst primary school children, and the urgency of addressing increasing health disparities which have been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic. They argue that evidence from the final Sugar Reduction report is vital to inform the next steps in mandating further industry-wide reform towards healthier food and drink. Organisations writing to the Health Secretary include Sustain, Obesity Health Alliance, British Heart Foundation, The Food Foundation, Royal Society for Public Health, British Dental Association, Diabetes UK and Action on Sugar.

Caroline Cerny, alliance lead at the Obesity Health Alliance says:

"Improving the nation’s diets is needed to level up on health and reformulation of everyday foods is one of the most equitable ways to achieve this. It’s vital that the final sugar reduction report is published so it can inform future approaches to incentivising reformulation in a more effective way.”

Barbara Crowther, Children’s Food Campaign co-ordinator at Sustain says:

“This report is already six months overdue, and with childhood obesity prevalence rising sharply, we should not be wasting any more time. We believe it will reveal the industry leaders and laggards on sugar reduction, and where further mandatory mechanisms need to be targeted. It’s crystal clear that when the government legislates, as it did with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, much faster and deeper progress occurs. We hope the Government will mark this anniversary by committing to publish the final Sugar Reduction report without any further delay.” The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), which came into force on 6 April 2018 had succeeded in removing an impressive 48,000 metric tonnes of sugar per year from soft drinks from 2015 to 2019 (according to the previous 2020 interim Sugar Reduction report).

● 48,000 tonnes is equivalent to the weight of 4,000 double decker buses. In drinks terms, it’s the equivalent of 6 million bathtubs or 192 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with original recipe Coca Cola*.

● Independent academic evaluations indicate the levy has delivered a 30g per household per week decline in sugar consumed in soft drinks, with the largest effects seen in lowest income households who are disproportionately exposed to risks leading to poor health and overweight.

● The SDIL had also raised £878m in levy revenues from the soft drink industry by the end of 2020/21 fiscal year, therefore likely to be in excess of £1 billion now.

The Government initially used this to establish the National School Breakfast Programme and double Primary schools Sports & PE Premium funding to £320 million per year, as well as a one year Healthy Pupil Capital Fund for local schools.

By contrast, the second year Sugar Reduction Report, published in October 2020 revealed that whilst there had been some progress in removing sugar from yoghurts and breakfast cereals, overall progress across food and drink under the voluntary programme averaged just 3% reduction in sugar per 100g (sales-weighted average), compared to 35.4% reduction in soft drinks covered by the SDIL. The final results of the Sugar Reduction Programme, which had set a target of 20% sugar reduction by 2020, were expected to be published in autumn 2021, but have still not been released. In January 2022, the public health minister said the delayed report would be published in “early 2022”.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, says: “The soft drinks levy has been hugely successful in reducing the amount of sugar we drink, but we are still seeing soaring levels of childhood obesity. With rising food and fuel prices, the Government needs to urgently look at what it can do to drive reformulation across other food categories and re-balance the price of shopping baskets to ensure that healthier options, including fruit and vegetables, are affordable for everyone. Without this action, the obesity situation is likely to get significantly worse over the coming months.”

John Maingay, director of policy at British Heart Foundation says:

“The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has proven to be very effective at taking sugar out of the nation’s diet since it was introduced. “The Government should look at
this success as a template to encourage the reformulation of other unhealthy foods, such as those high in salt. “Taking such an approach alongside the rest of the Government’s obesity strategy would improve the nation’s heart health, and would help to build a more healthy, resilient population.”

The National Food Strategy report by independent adviser Henry Dimbleby has recommended that the Government adopt a new sugar and salt reformulation tax covering all processed food and drink. They estimated that a £3 per kg levy on sugar and £6 levy on salt could raise around £3 billion in revenues and remove an estimated 4-10g sugar from average daily diets. The Government is due to respond to the recommendations in a forthcoming white paper on food, which is now expected in midMay. Notes to editors: [*] Calculations based on a typical double decker bus weight of around 12 tonnes, a bathtub containing 80 litres, an Olympic swimming pool contains 2.5 million litres. Original Coca Cola contains on average 10.5g sugar per 100ml (or 35g per 330ml can). The last Sugar Reduction report, published in October 2020, showed that:

- The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has delivered a 47,899 tonnes per year reduction in sugar volumes in soft drink from 2015 to 2019 (from 135,501 tonnes in 2015 to 87,602 tonnes in 2019). This is a reduction of 35.4%. NB This was despite a 14.9% increase in volume based soft drinks sales overall, with increases in consumption shifting to low- and no-sugar drinks.

- For soft drinks sold in retail/manufacturing, sugar content of soft drinks declined by an average of 43.7% per 100ml. For drinks sold in Out-of-Home (eg cafes & restaurants) the total sugar content of soft drinks declined by 38.5%.

- 35.4% overall reduction in sugar contained in retail/manufacturer SSBs despite 14.9% increase (from 3,542,574 litres in 2015 to 4,070,902 in 2019) in volume based SSB sales overall.

According to statistical HMRC bulletins the Soft Drinks Industry Levy has so far contributed £878 million by April 2021. Provisional reports on revenue receipts for the first six months of 2021-22 tax year were £152 million.