Children have already exceeded the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18 year old by the time they reach their tenth birthday, according to Public Health England (PHE). This is based on their total sugar consumption from the age of two. This figure comes as a new Change4Life campaign launches today, supporting families to cut back on sugar and to help tackle growing rates of childhood obesity.
While children’s sugar intakes have declined slightly in recent years, they are still consuming around eight excess sugar cubes each day, equivalent to around 2,800 excess sugar cubes per year. To help parents manage this, Change4Life is encouraging them to “Make a swap when you next shop”. Making simple everyday swaps can reduce children’s sugar intake from some products (yoghurts, drinks and breakfast cereals) by half – while giving them healthier versions of the foods and drinks they enjoy. You can find out how much sugar your children are eating every day by using the PHE sugar calculator.
Parents can try swapping:
• a higher-sugar yoghurt (e.g. split-pot) for a lower sugar one, to halve their sugar intake from six cubes of sugar to three;
• a sugary juice drink for a no-added sugar juice drink, to cut back from two cubes to half a cube;
• a higher-sugar breakfast cereal (e.g. a frosted or chocolate cereal) for a lower sugar cereal, to cut back from three cubes to half a cube per bowl.
Rob Percival, Head of Policy at Food for Life says “Most of the sugar in children's diets comes from ultra-processed foods such as fizzy drinks, sweets, biscuits, cakes, puddings, and breakfast cereals. Encouraging parents to make changes to their children’s diets is a good idea, and these changes should aim to boost the consumption of real, fresh, minimally processed foods. Over half of family food purchases in the UK are of ultra-processed junk, and as a nation we need to lower this figure to begin to tackle the rising tide of childhood obesity in the UK."
Severe obesity in ten to eleven 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, while more young people than ever are developing type 2 diabetes. Excess sugar can also lead to painful tooth decay, bullying and low self-esteem in childhood.
But sweeteners are controversial. The debate over their benefits and risks rumbles on in popular press and academic literature. Leaving aside the concerns over their safety, their potential contribution towards diabetes, their purportedly harmful affect upon gut health and metabolism, one important issue, often overlooked in the debate, concerns their influence over our behaviour and expectations, particularly in childhood.
Last year the French Government took the bold move of banning refillable soft drinks – sugary and artificially sweetened – in restaurants nationally. The UK government should look beyond reformulation and the succour of sweeteners to policies that help us rediscover the joy of real, fresh, unprocessed food. Such an ambition is particularly important for children growing up in Britain, where we consume the most ultra-processed diet in Europe, who need nourishment and a connection to good food, not a diet of calorie-reduced artificially sweetened junk.
Read more about our view on artificial sweeteners here.