Responding to plans expected to be introduced in July, Gavin Partington, the BSDA’s director general, commended NHS England’s “pragmatic approach to the issue” in which milk-based drinks and coffee would also be subject to the ban.
“While sugar intake from soft drinks has been falling, obesity levels have been increasing,” he pointed out.
“It makes sense to promote sales of healthier options in hospitals but not to focus on soft drinks - the only category that has seen a significant reduction in consumer sugar intake, down by over 18% since 2012.”
The NHS’ decision, which does not affect Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, follows on from the authority’s move to set a 250 calorie limit on confectionery sold in hospital canteens, stores, vending machines and its other outlets in October 2017.
Restrictions to both sugar-sweetened drinks and confectionary have received support from national retailers including the newsagent WH Smith, supermarket Marks & Spencer and high street bakery Greggs, which have signed up to the voluntary scheme.
Hospitals and suppliers have been warned that if they don’t take action to reduce sales of sugary drinks by the end of March 2018, a ban will be introduced in 2018 instead.
“It’s important the NHS practices what it preaches on healthy food and drink,” said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.
“We want 2018 to be the year when the tasty, affordable and easy option for patients, staff and visitors is the healthy option.”
2018’s clampdown on sugar carries on from where 2017 left off as a beleaguered food industry continues to deal with rejection of all things sweet not only from consumers but industry pressure groups and national governments.
The implementation of a sugar tax in the European Union is continuing to gather momentum with the UK set introduce a levy from April.
Drinks that contain more than five grams (g) of sugar per 100 millilitres (ml) will be saddled with an 18p charge per litre. Drinks containing 8g or more of sugar per 100ml will be charged 24p per litre.
The UK joins Ireland and South Africa in introducing a sugar tax and follows similar moves made by Portugal, the UAE, and Sri Lanka last year.
Growing action to introduce a similar levy in the US has proved encouraging with a seven jurisdictions making moves to adopt similar taxes, beginning with Berkeley in 2014 and most recently Seattle in 2017. While Cook County and Santa Fe have rejected the idea, more counties are expected to vote in favour of a tax in some form in 2018.
Changing consumer tastes
Sugar-sweetened food and drink have also fallen out of favour with increasingly health-conscious consumers, who are looking to products that use sugar alternatives or ‘lite’ versions.
DSM consumer research in eight countries (the US, Mexico, Brazil, UK, Spain, Germany, Vietnam, and Japan) found that 47% of consumers are now more concerned about their sugar consumption than they were three years ago.
Industry response has been reflected in the number new soft drinks produced over the past five years, in which 50% contain either sweeteners in place of sugar, or no sugar at all.
Mintel's market research thinks that 13% of all new dairy products released over the same time period (excluding cheese, butter and plain milk) are thought to contain less sugar.
“We welcome this move by NHS England to ban the sale of sugary drinks in our hospitals,” said Katherine Button, Campaign for Better Hospital food coordinator.
“Tooth extraction as a result of tooth decay is the most common cause for hospitalisation of children under five – putting unnecessary pressure on stretched NHS services.
“This bold leadership from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens is exactly what we need to tackle these big health challenges.”