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Action on Sugar

Reducing sugar content in sugar-sweetened drinks by 40% over 5 years could prevent 300,000 cases of type 2 diabetes in the next two decades


7th January 2016

Click here for full Lancet article

For Media Coverage: Media Coverage Lancet Paper

A new study published today in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology [1] shows that reducing free sugars [a] content in sugar sweetened drinks (including fruit juices) in the UK by 40% over five years, without replacing them with any non-nutritive sweeteners, could prevent around 300,000 cases of type 2 diabetes over two decades – with major cost savings to the NHS.

Based on UK’s salt reduction programme that has seen salt content in many food products successfully reduced by 40% over five years, the authors decided to do a study on the effects of a similar reduction in added free sugars. Using national representative data from the 2008-2012 National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme and British Soft Drinks Association annual reports, the authors calculated sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption level (both with and without fruit juices) and its contribution to free sugars and energy intakes in the UK population.

The calculations showed that a 40% reduction in free sugars added to SSBs over five years would lead to an average reduction in energy intake of 38 kcal per day by the end of the fifth year. This would lead to an average reduction in body weight of 1.20kg in adults [2] resulting in a reduction in overweight and obese adults by approximately half a million and 1 million respectively. This would in turn prevent between 274,000-309,000 obesity-related type 2 diabetes over the next two decades.

If fruit juices were excluded from SSBs, the corresponding reduction in energy intake and body weight would be 31 kcal/day and 0.96kg respectively. This would result in a 300, 000 fewer cases of overweight people and 800, 000 fewer cases of obese individuals [b] which would in turn prevent around 221,000-250,000 diabetes cases over two decades. The predicted impact was greater in adolescents, young adults and individuals from low income families who consume more SSBs.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar, says : “Our study shows this strategy could have a profound impact on reducing energy intake from SSBs and could therefore lower the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the long term.

“The Prime Minister can no longer ignore the fact that the current nutrition policies are not working.  Action on Sugar has developed a coherent evidenced-based actions [PDF 240KB] [3] which starts with setting of incremental sugar reduction targets for soft drinks and a further 6 actions to follow.  These actions require a government-funded but independent nutrition agency, which can set mandatory targets with robust enforcement. In support of this the British Retail Consortium is now calling for regulated sugar, fat and salt reduction targets [4].

“The UK food and drink industry could lead the world in preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Registered Nutritionist Kawther Hashem, Researcher of Action on Sugar, says “We have become a nation hooked on the sweet stuff, expecting all our food and drink to taste incredibly sweet, and it is making us overweight and obese. Merely having the option of ‘diet’ or ‘no sugar’ products does not work.  Food and drink companies must slowly and gradually reduce the sugar and the sweetness, as they have already done for salt, so we can all get used to far less sugar in our diet.”

- Ends -

Notes to Editor and References

For more information contact:
David Clarke at Rock PR on 07773 225516 or email

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a. Free sugars – includes sugars that are added to food and drink, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates, not sugars in milk products and whole fruit & vegetables.
b. Overweight was defined as a BMI of 25 or greater and obesity was defined as a BMI of 30 or greater in adults.

1. For full Article and Comment see:
    For Appendix see:

2. By scaling up the distribution of the predicted body weight in the NDNS RP to the UK adult population, the reduction in the number of overweight, obese and diabetic adults were estimated.
3. Action on Sugar Cameron’s Plan - A comprehensive approach to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes in the UK. evidenced-based actions [PDF 240KB] evidenced-based actions [PDF 240KB]4. Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at British Retail Consortium, said many retailers would welcome Government sugar reduction targets – as long as they were compulsory.



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