Manufacturers throw weight behind obesity app that displays food & drink sugar levels

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Children aged 4-10 years consume around 22 kg of sugar per year according to Public Health England. (Image: Public Health England)
Children aged 4-10 years consume around 22 kg of sugar per year according to Public Health England. (Image: Public Health England)
A smartphone app that enables consumers to scan the bar code on products to determine their sugar content has been backed by some manufacturers and major UK retailers.

As part of its campaign to raise awareness about the effects of sugar consumption by Public Health England (PHE), the Change4Life initiative is offering a smartphone app that aids consumers in calculating sugar content in everyday food and drink. The app works by scanning the barcode of products and revealing the amount of total sugar it contains in cubes and grams. 

Manufacturers such as cereal company Weetabix, New York Bagels, and Flora have given their backing whilst UK supermarkets including Tesco, Aldi, Morrison’s, The Co-operative Food, and Asda have also pledged their support.

Children aged 4-10 years consume around 22 kg of sugar per year according to PHE’s campaign that encourages parents to take control of their children’s sugar intake. The 22 kg is equal to 5,500 sugar cubes with chocolate, soft drinks, and fruit juices the main sources of sugar that contribute to a fifth of 4-to-5-year-olds and a third of 10-to-11-year-olds classified as overweight or obese in the UK.

As part of the campaign, five million Sugar Smart packs will be given away to primary age children and their families via schools, local authorities and retailers. A nationwide roadshow will also take place across 25 locations from 18th January.

The sugar snag

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist for PHE said: “Children aged 5 shouldn’t have more than 19 grams of sugar per day. That’s 5 cubes, but it’s very easy to have more. That’s why we want parents to be “Sugar Smart”. Our easy to use app will help parents see exactly where the sugar in their children’s diet is coming from, so they can make informed choices about what to cut down on.”​ 

But for advocates of healthier eating, the latest initiatives by the government and efforts by the supermarkets don’t go far enough.

Ben Reynolds, deputy coordinator of campaign group Sustain told us: “We support Public Health England’s calls for action on sugar, and hope that the Government will build on this to implement much more wide reaching changes in its forthcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy.”

“We definitely need to see more pressure on food companies to reformulate, as well as stronger restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food.  PHE would recognise that consumers are not the only group to target, but ultimately are those whose behaviour needs to change.”

Prior to the campaign, supermarkets had begun taking steps in response to reports from PHE and the draft carbohydrates and health report published by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition last summer, which called for free sugar intakes to be halved as a proportion of daily energy intake from 10 g to 5 g.

In December last year, Tesco announced a series of sugar reduction targets to its own-label suppliers in new categories of food and drink in the New Year, following the success it has achieved in healthier reformulation of children’s soft drinks.

Over the past three years, Tesco’s suppliers have reformulated over 4,200 products to reduce sugar, salt and fat. Products covered have included the likes of: own-label cornflakes, ketchup, Greek-style yogurt, strawberry jam and chicken nuggets.

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