Press release

PHE urges parents to cut sugary drinks from children’s diets

Public Health England (PHE) follow recommendations of independent carbohydrates and health report, including halving sugar consumption.

PHE have called on parents and families to cut sugary drinks from their children’s daily diet, after independent nutrition experts say the country consumes too much sugar, leading to major health consequences.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) final report on carbohydrates and health, published today (17 July 2015), recommended a significant cut to the amount of sugars people consume as part of their daily calorie intake - halved from 10% to 5%. The report also recommends that consumption of sugar sweetened drinks is minimised and fibre increased.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of PHE, said:

One-fifth of 10 to 11 year olds are obese and almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese and sugary drinks are a major contributor. There is nothing good about a sugary drink, particularly if you are under the age of 11, and we must work together to find ways to wean ourselves from the sugar habit.

The recommendation on sugars represents a huge challenge to the population, the government and industry, as both young people and adults already exceeded the previous recommendation. Given the serious health implications of being overweight or obese, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, PHE is urging parents to take action now, starting with sugary drinks.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said:

We’re asking parents to take a big step to establish a lifetime of healthy eating habits for their children by replacing sugary drinks with sugar free and no added sugar drinks, lower fat milks or water.

Sugary drinks have no place in a child’s daily diet, but account for almost a third of their daily sugar intake. Too much sugar leads to excess calorie intake, weight gain and obesity, itself leading to heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes in adults.

But individual action is just part of the solution. We’re finalising a review of wider factors that influence how much sugar we consume, from marketing and promotions to reformulation and fiscal measures, so we can look at what we can all do to help the country lead healthier lives.

SACN’s findings are the first wide ranging look at the relationship between sugar consumption and health outcomes in the UK since the 1990s. The report found consuming sugary drinks is leading to unhealthy weight gain in children and young people. For children, too much sugar is linked with a greater risk of tooth decay. In adults, it leads to them consuming too many calories.

Figures from the national diet and nutrition survey, referenced in the SACN report, found sugary drinks to be the highest contributor of sugars to the diet of 4 to 10 year olds. They consume:

  • 30% from soft drinks and fruit juice
  • 29% mainly from biscuits, cakes and breakfast cereals
  • 22% from sweets, chocolate, table sugar, jams and other sweet spreads
  • 12% from yoghurts, fromage frais, ice-cream, and other dairy desserts

While PHE has identified cutting sugary drinks as the first step parents can take, updated advice from its childhood obesity prevention campaign, Change4Life, also provides families with advice on how to cut down on other sugary foods. In addition, people are now being strongly advised to have only one 150 mililitre serving of fruit juice or smoothie per day, with a meal, as part of their 5 a day because of the high levels of sugar they contain.

When SACN published its draft report in June 2014, PHE embarked on a review of possible measures to reduce sugar consumption, including reformulation, marketing and promotions of high-sugar food and drink, and fiscal measures, looking at the impact they could have. The government asked PHE to use the evidence from this review to advise on actions it could take to lower sugar consumption, informing its wider obesity and diabetes strategy. PHE is finalising this evidence review and will publish it later this summer.


  • Definitions of sugar vary. In the context of the SACN recommendation, it refers to sugars that have been added by a food manufacturer, cook or consumer to a food and include those sugars naturally found in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice. It doesn’t include sugars naturally found in milk and milk products. Words on food manufacturer labels used to describe free sugars include:
    • cane sugar
    • honey
    • brown sugar
    • high fructose corn syrup
    • fruit juice concentrate
    • corn syrup
    • fructose
    • sucrose
    • glucose
    • nectars
    • crystalline sucrose
  • SACN is a committee of independent experts that advises Government on matters relating to diet, nutrition and health. It was asked by the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency to review the literature into dietary carbohydrates and their role in health, which was last considered in the 1990s. Read the final SACN report.
  • Current evidence shows that:
    • sugars account for 12.4% of adult daily energy intake and 15% of young peoples
    • teenagers consume 3 times more sugar than the new SACN recommendation, with most coming from high-sugar drinks
    • 12% of 3 year olds suffered from tooth decay in 2013 and 28% of children suffer from tooth decay by the time they turn 5
    • excess sugar in the diet leads to excess weight; almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese and between reception year and year 6, the number of obese children doubles
    • there are now around 2.5 million people suffering from type 2 diabetes and 10% of the population is expected to develop it by 2034
    • obesity costs the NHS more than £5 billion every year. Treating type 2 diabetes costs the NHS £8.8 billion a year, almost 9% of its budget
  • The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) is a continuous survey of the diet and nutritional status of adults and children aged 1.5 years and older living in private households in the UK. The survey recruits 1000 participants each year, selected randomly to provide a representative sample of the UK population.
  • In June 2014, PHE published its paper sugar reduction: responding to the challenge, setting out its intention to carry out a review of possible interventions to reduce sugar intakes.
  • Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health.

Image by Howzey. Used under Flickr Creative Commons.

Public Health England press office