The campaign group, which regularly conducts surveys of this kind, looked at single-serving products sold as ‘flavoured milk’, ‘milkshakes’, ‘shakes’ and ‘freakshakes’, including chilled and ambient drinks, in the UK.
It included a total of 140 products sold in fast-food chains and restaurants and 41 products sold in supermarkets.
Manufacturers’ branded and retailers’ private label milkshakes fared better than those available in out-of-home restaurants and fast-food outlets, however, which had “grotesque” and “alarming” levels of sugar in the products, said Action on Sugar
Nevertheless, it found that 90% of the 41 products sold in supermarkets would receive a ‘red’ label for excessive levels of sugars per serving as sold, according to the UK’s front-of-pack traffic light nutrition label.
Muller was the worst manufacturer for high sugar levels, claiming the top spot for the first five products with its Milk Frij brand that contains between 42.8 and 38.4 g of sugar per 400 ml serving.
“Overall, supermarket milkshakes are much lower in sugar and calories per serving. Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake has 17 times the amount of sugar as a Yazoo No Added Sugar Strawberry 200 ml which contains 9.2 g of sugars per serving,” it said.
The Yazoo brand is owned by FrieslandCampina.
‘Freakshakes’ or ‘ultimate shakes’ are milkshakes with added toppings such as cream, sauces, biscuits, confectionery or cake.
Family restaurant Toby Carvery, which positions itself as an everyday restaurant, was ranked by Action on Sugar as the most ‘shocking shake’ with its Unicorn Freakshake containing 156 g of sugar, or 39 teaspoons. This is over six times the recommended daily amount of sugar for a seven to 10-year-old.
The next worst offender among the foodservice outlets was Five Guys Banana and Chocolate Shake with 149 g of sugar per serving, or 37 teaspoons, the equivalent of drinking over four cans of soda, said the campaign group.
The non-profit public health campaign group slammed restaurants and foodservice outlets for “irresponsibly” failing to publish nutrition information either online or in-house.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar called for the high-calorie milkshakes to be reduced “immediately” below the 300 kcal per serving.
“Despite milkshakes being incorporated into the Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme as part of the government’s childhood obesity plan, it is clear from our survey that much more needs to be done than a 20% reduction.
“These very high-calorie drinks if consumed on a daily basis, would result in children becoming obese and suffer from tooth decay - that is not acceptable.”
Registered nutritionist and researcher at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London Kawther Hashem said: “Undoubtedly some of these milkshakes contribute to excess sugar and calorie intake, and it is shocking this information is hidden from the consumer, who would struggle to find it.
“It is time the government introduced legislation to force companies to be more transparent about what is in their products by displaying clear nutrition information online and in the outlets, at all times,” she said.