PHE reveals new guidelines to reduce sugar content in drinks

Public Health England (PHE) has published new guidelines for the drinks industry to reduce the amount of sugar children consume through milk based drinks and juices.

Milkshakes, sweetened coffees, hot chocolates, juices and smoothies are all expected to meet the new guidelines as part of PHE’s sugar reduction programme, a key deliverable of the government’s childhood obesity plan. This includes pre-packaged drinks and those sold at cafes, restaurants and fast food chains.

The guidelines set out how much sugar the drinks industry is expected to remove from these products, as well as how these reductions could be achieved.

By mid-2021, the government and PHE expect the drinks industry to:

  • Reduce sugar in juice based drinks (excluding juice from a single fruit or veg*) by 5%;
  • Cap all juices likely to be consumed in a single occasion (including blended juices†, smoothies and single juices) to 150 calories;
  • Reduce sugar in milk (and milk substitutes) based drinks by 20% and cap products likely to be consumed in a single occasion to 300 calories.

As with the existing categories in the sugar reduction programme – which has challenged the food industry to reduce the sugar in the foods, which contribute the most to children’s sugar intakes – the drinks industry has three options to achieve the ambitions:

  • Reduce the levels of sugar in products;
  • Reduce portion size for products likely to be consumed in a single occasion;
  • Encourage consumers to purchase lower sugar products.

Juice and milk based drinks are exempt from the government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL). Progress made by industry under this programme will be taken into account when Treasury review the continuation of the exemption of milk-based drinks in 2020.

Samantha Montel nutritionist at PHE, says, “Milkshakes, hot chocolates and juice drinks can make a significant contribution to children’s sugar intakes. Consuming too much sugar is one of the main causes of children leaving primary school overweight or obese and suffering with tooth decay.

“The drinks industry has a key role to play in helping to tackle this by reducing the amount of sugar we buy and consume. We’ve already seen positive signs from this sector and hope to see them step up even more to the challenge.”

PHE’s advice to the public to limit juice or smoothies to a total of 150ml per day and to only consume them with meals remains unchanged. 150ml of juice or smoothie counts as a maximum of one portion of PHE’s 5 A Day.

The new guidelines are based on extensive engagement with the drinks industry and public health NGOs.

The next step in the programme will involve further talks to develop the metrics for future progress reports. The first progress report for these categories will be published in mid 2020.

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