The organisation looked at the sugar content of 94 fruit snack products sold in major UK supermarkets and found 80 of them contained more sugar than sweets. Haribo Starmix confectionery, for example, contains 47 g of sugar per 100 g, while some fruit snacks contain as much as 81 g of sugar per 100 g.
“Fruit snacks with these unacceptably high levels of hidden sugars are very likely to cause decay in the hardest tissue in the human body - the teeth,” said Aubrey Sheiham, Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health at University College London. “Tooth decay is the most common cause of pain in children and the main reason why children are admitted to hospital. The worldwide epidemic of tooth decay will only be controlled when manufacturers markedly reduce the levels of sugars in their products.”
However, head of advocacy at AB Sugar, Katherine Teague, said it was “worrying that people still think that sugars can be hidden”.
“The reality is that manufacturers are required by law to provide nutritional information on all pre-packaged foods and drinks found in the UK, and to suggest otherwise could further confuse consumers,” she said.
Currently any products that contain more than 22.5 g of added sugars per 100 g qualify for a red warning label under the UK’s traffic light nutrition labelling programme. Of the surveyed products, 99% would receive a red coloured label for sugars.
Not an alternative to fresh fruit
Commenting on the survey, dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton pointed out that dried fruits contain about 70% sugars but count as one portion of the five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables.
She said: “Based on this, a snack made from pureed fruit would also count as one portion of 5-a-day if no extra sugar is added so it is not misleading to include fruit-based snacks as an option, particularly when they are being positioned as a healthier option to confectionery, not as an alternative to fresh fruit.”
Fruit Bowl Fruit Flakes Raspberry Rush was one of the products highlighted by the Action on Sugar survey, with 58 g of sugar per 100 g. Company spokesperson Andrew Saunders said: “Fruit Bowl fruit snacks are positioned as an alternative food choice – and as part of a balanced diet – to chocolate, crisps, biscuits and confectionery…We ensure all the products we develop are not fruit substitutes but can help parents who struggle to get enough fruit and vegetables into their children’s diet.”
Managing director of Organix, which makes Organix Goodies Organic Fruit Gummies Strawberry and Apple – highlighted for their 67.2 g of sugars per 100 g – said: “At Organix we never add any refined sugars to our foods, we make our fruit gummies from organic pureed and concentrated fruits which are naturally high in fruit sugars, so we ensure our portion size is suitable as a snack for children to be eaten as part of a balanced and varied diet.”
The Organix gummies contain about two teaspoons of sugar per serving.
In light of its latest findings, Action on Sugar again urged the UK government to set sugar reduction targets for food manufacturers.