Supermarkets selling excess sugar at our expense

5th Apr 23 by Liam Lysaght

Supermarkets are pursuing ‘business as usual’ strategies that drive overall sales of sugary products even higher

Sugar consumption in the UK is double the government’s ‘maximum intake’ and isn’t on track to meet that goal, feeding public health challenges such as obesity, childhood tooth decay and type 2 diabetes. We all know too much sugar is bad for our health – so why do we eat so much of it? A new report from Feedback and Action on Sugar identifies the role that supermarkets play in perpetuating this dangerous level of sugar consumption, and what they should be doing instead.

Far from leveraging their power to aid public health, we found that supermarkets are pursuing ‘business as usual’ strategies that drive overall sales of sugary products even higher. Feedback and Action on Sugar’s research found that 9 out of 10 UK supermarkets do not have policies to measure overall sugar sales, or to ensure that they are consistently reducing sugar sales.

Further, they were neglecting responsibility for sugar sales beyond their own branded products. Supermarkets choose to continue stocking, and promoting, very high sugar products  – including those explicitly targeted at young children. Supermarkets could instead seize the opportunity to remove the worst offenders from their shelves, with unparalleled impact.

Supermarkets are playing up their efforts to reduce the sugar content of some of their products  – many have reformulated products so they are lower in sugar, or introduced new ‘low sugar’ versions of family favourites. Yet, overall, government research shows that after 5 years of efforts to reduce sugar in a range of foods, sales of sugar have climbed by 7%.

Our original survey of supermarket policies also shows that no retailers are willing to publicly support mandatory reduction targets for sugar, despite marketing their efforts to be healthier. This gap demonstrates that action will not be forthcoming without pressure.

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