The findings into 'meal deals' — a supermarket offer that combines certain foods at a discounted price—reveal the alarming regularity in which retailers offer “high sugar” food and beverage as part of the promotion.
More worryingly, the government appears not to consider this a major issue, having eliminated price promotions from last year’s Childhood Obesity Plan, it said.
This is in stark contrast to the announcement last week that Scotland would introduce plans to restrict the promotion of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt.
“Eating too much sugar is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and tooth decay,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar.
“Supermarkets pretend to be on the side of their customer’s health to encourage loyalty, but this survey clearly shows that they are not. The government now needs to take decisive action to ban all promotions of unhealthy foods.”
But Gavin Partington, director general at British Soft Drinks Association defended the drinks industry and “the role it plays in sugar reduction”.
“This is why we have been investing in reformulation for many years. Since 2013 we have reduced sugar intake from our products by 17%.
“As well as reformulating our products, we have increased the range of portion sizes available to include smaller pack sizes; we have switched marketing spend to lower and no sugar products; and we provide clear ‘front of pack’ nutrition labelling.
“As an industry we remain committed to working with government to help consumers make informed choices."
More survey results
The survey also reveals that 7 out of 10 (72%) meal deal drinks sold in British supermarket Morrisons are high (red) in sugar.
The supermarket’s Sweet Chilli Chicken Wrap with Relentless Passion Punch Energy (500ml) drink and Millionaire Shortbread also posted 28 teaspoons of sugar and 1048 kcal.
Other high sugar combo examples include Tesco’s Smokehouse Pulled Chicken with Mesquite Style Sauce with a Monster Energy (500ml) drink and Mars Duo (30 teaspoons of sugar)
Co-op Meal Pot Blackbean Pulled Beef & Noodle with Rockstar Blueberry Pomegranate Acai energy (500ml) drink and Rocky Road Bar came in at 28 teaspoons of sugar and 855 kcal.
Action on Sugar accused the majority of retailers of failing to promote healthy choices to their consumers.
“72% of meal deal drinks sold at Morrisons are high (red) in sugar per drink compared to 38% at Marks & Spencer's which offers the lowest percentage of high sugar drinks,” it stated.
“Some drinks alone contain up to 70 g of sugar and are frequently offered in 500ml portions, which equates to two servings, despite being sold as part of a lunch meal.
“In addition, WHSmith’s are not even providing healthy snack options i.e. fresh fruit as part of their meal deals.”
It added that if retailers really wanted to encourage customers to make healthy choices, they could exclude high sugar drinks, chocolate and sweets from meal deals.
They could also consider not offering any other high (red) sugar products along with those high in salt and saturated fat as part of meal deals and increase the range of healthier choices, they added.
Childhood obesity plan
Published in October 2016, the government's childhood obesity plan included a sugar levy and a voluntary target to cut sugar in children's food and drink by 20% by 2020,
However, accusations that the plan also included "vague statements" that were "inadequate" were highlighted in a report by the government's Health Select Committee in March this year.
Here politicians urged for curbs on big discounts and price promotions on unhealthy food, commenting that responsible retailers were overshadowed by those offering discounts on food high in sugar and fat.