POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Sugar and Public Health

Published Monday, June 20, 2016

This POSTnote summarises the health risks associated with eating a diet high in sugar and outlines the policy options that might best enable people to limit their sugar consumption.

Jump to full report >>

"We are eating to much sugar and it is bad for our health" is the opening statement of Public Health England's latest report on sugar. Consuming sugar increases the risk of tooth decay and is associated with type 2 diabetes and weight gain.

In this briefing you can read about the policy options that would help people to limit their consumption of sugar within government guidelines. For adults and children aged over 11, sugar consumption should be limited to no more than 5% of total dietary energy - this equates to about 30g or 7 sugar cubes. This is the amount of sugar in an average can of cola. National surveys of diet and nutrition show that all age groups consume more than double this amount, as shown in the graph below (Source: Public Health England). The consumption of sugar and sugary drinks is particularly high in school age children. It is highly likely that the data collected in the survey is an under-estimate of actual consumption.

UK sugar intake compared to the recommended maximum of 5% energy 2008/09 – 2011/12

Policies to improve public health through diet generally consider all nutrients and dietary patterns, as well as physical activity, to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle. Recent policy and campaigning focus has been on targeting sugar, and the interventions that will help people to eat less. They are include:

  • reformulating products so they are smaller, or contain alternatives to sugar such as sweeteners
  • restricting the marketing and promotion of high sugar foods and drinks in retail and other environments, and their availability in environments, such as schools and workplaces
  • the role of local initiatives to promote a healthy lifestyle  
  • changing regulations as to how high sugar products can be advertised (in all formats online, billboards television and elsewhere), especially to children
  • the role of agricultual policies in food production
  • fiscal measures to change behaviour, including taxation of high sugar products

You can read more about these options in the POSTnote.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Public Health England
  • Department of Health
  • Ofcom
  • Committee of Advertising Practice
  • Alison Boyd - Sugar Nutrition UK
  • Food and Drink Federation
  • Andrew Prentice - MRC International Nutrition Group, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Pablo Monsivais - Centre for Diet and Activity Research, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine
  • Nita Forouhi - MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine
  • Jack Winkler - London Metropolitan University
  • Chizuru Nishida - World Health Organisation
  • Jean Adams - University of Cambridge
  • Cecile Knai - London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Mark Petticrew - London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Robert Lustig - School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco
  • David Buckingham - University of Loughborough
  • Jason Halford - University of Liverpool
  • Kawther Hashem - Queen Mary University of London
  • Robin Ireland - Health Equalities Group

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts POSTnotes

POST

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.