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Action on Sugar

Sugar-sweetened beverages

12 June 2014

• 79% of sugary fizzy drinks contain 6 or more teaspoons of sugar per can (330ml) – WHO’s recommended daily MAXIMUM for sugar [1-2]
• 9 out of 10 sugary fizzy drinks would receive a RED (high) traffic light for sugars [3]
• A typical can of cola contains as much sugar as three and half Krispy Kreme Donuts [4]
• Some elderflower sparkling drinks contain more sugars than Coca Cola
• Two thirds (63%) of ginger beer drinks contain MORE sugars than Coca Cola

For fizzy drinks data: Fizzy Drinks 2014 data [PDF 302KB]

For media coverage: Fizzy Drinks - media coverage

NEW independent research by Action on Sugar reveals the shockingly high and unnecessary levels of sugar in carbonated sugar-sweetened soft drinks and calls for immediate action NOW to set targets to reduce sugar levels of ALL products in order to halt the obesity epidemic [5].

The survey analysed 232 sugar-sweetened drinks from leading supermarkets [6]. Interestingly the findings revealed huge variations in the sugar content of very similar products, demonstrating sugar levels can come down significantly in soft drinks without it drastically affecting the taste [7].

Sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks are a large contributor to sugars in our diets, especially for children and a hidden source of calories. On average, 16% of adult’s daily added sugar intake comes from soft drinks. For teenagers, it makes up nearly a THIRD (29%) of their daily added sugar intake and contributes to 4.8% of their total energy intake [8]. Over half of the sugary drinks surveyed would contain more sugar per can than is recommended for a child, teenager and adult for a whole day based on the new WHO draft guidelines for sugar [1].

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar says, "Added sugars are completely unnecessary in our diets and are strongly linked to obesity and Type II Diabetes, as well as to dental caries; which remains a major problem for children and adults.”  

“We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to set incremental targets for sugar reduction now – and to start with these sugary drinks.  Replacing sugar with sweeteners is not the answer: we need to reduce overall sweetness so people’s tastes can adjust to having less sweet drinks.

“A similar approach has successfully reduced salt intake; people are consuming 15% less salt than they were 10 years ago, and now prefer less salty foods [9], this policy is estimated to be saving 9,000 lives a year, plus healthcare savings of £1.5billion a year.  It is NOW time to do the same for sugar.”

NB we have outlined suggested targets,  [10].

Dr Aseem Malhotra says, “It’s high time to shake-up nutritional labelling for sugar.  One can of regular Coca-Cola contains nine teaspoons of added sugar (35g), which is equivalent to 140% of the draft WHO guidelines for added sugar intake [1]. However, the current UK Reference Intake [11] label misleads consumers into assuming they can consume two and half cans of cola and still be within their daily recommended sugar intake! What’s more, evidence now reveals one sugary drink per day is associated with an increase risk (22%) of Type II Diabetes - even in the non-obese [12].”

Kawther Hashem, nutritionist at Action on Sugar says, “People are drinking spoonfulls of sugar in their fizzy drinks; even seemingly healthier options such as elderflower can be loaded with sugars. Look on the label for ‘sugars per 100ml’ and switch to a lower or no added sugar variety of your favourite drink, or even better, don’t drink them, they contain nothing of any nutritional value. Drink water and save money too!”

NB we have a table of swaps, [13].


Tiffany McKirdy, Fentiman, "Fentiman’s has been producing botanically brewed beverages since 1905. We have always focused on using only the highest quality ingredients. However, we are committed to reducing the sugar content of our drinks to the minimum possible without compromising either the quality or the natural ingredients of our products. One prominent concern surrounding sugar content appears to focus on the rising danger of childhood obesity. 

Fentiman’s is marketed as an 'adult soft drink', so the assumption can be that the consumer is discerning and able to make a decision about purchase based on the relevant information on the label. In addition, premium soft drinks are perceived as ‘treats’ and not consumed in large quantities. However, as part of our continued research and development work, we are focused on reducing the sugar content. Our target is a reduction of 20% by the end of 2016, without sacrificing the unique flavour profile of our range and without resorting to artificial sweeteners, which would compromise the nature of our drinks."

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London, “These findings are troubling enough for public health. They are doubly troubling since their publication coincides with the World Cup 2014, part-sponsored by soft drinks. We really must address the connotations sought by makers and sellers of oversweet, unhealthy food and drink products with superfit young men running around football fields staying fit, while the UK and much of the world sits, watches, imbibes soft drinks and puts on weight. The flood of sugary drinks from so many sources which this report exposes simply must be reduced.”


Notes to Editor

Tables below, full data tables should be available with this release. For more information contact:

● National PR - David Clarke: 07773 225516

Tweet #LessSugar

Ref 1 – WHO’s current recommendation, from 2002, is that sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day. The new draft guideline also proposes that sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake per day and further suggests that a reduction to below 5% of total energy intake per day would have additional benefits. It is estimated that 5% of total energy intake is equivalent to 25g of sugar per day. Furthermore, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day of sugar for women and no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for men.
Ref 2 – Serving size has been standardised to 330ml, regular can size. Although many varieties are available in a 330ml can size, some bottles provide 150ml, 250ml or 500ml as a serving size and have been recalculated as 330ml from the 100ml data.
Ref 3 - Colour-coded Nutrition Labelling (Traffic Light Labels)
The ratings for red, amber and green for each nutrient are based on the Department of Health Guide to Creating a Front of Pack (FoP) Nutrition Label for Pre-packed Products Sold Through Retail Outlets:
• Traffic light labels are given per 100ml. Portion size criteria applies to portion/serving sizes greater than 150ml. Traffic light labelling given per portion for drinks based on new front of pack Traffic Light Labelling criteria.
Sugar - Red >13.5g/portion or >11.25g/100ml Amber >2.5≤11.25g/100ml, Green ≤2.25g/100ml
Ref 4 – An Original Glazed Krispy Kreme Donut contains 10g sugars per portion -
Ref 5 - About Action on Sugar:
Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and to bring about a reduction in the amount of sugars in processed foods. Action on Sugar is supported by 21 expert advisors.
Ref 6 – Survey details, full survey data available with this release or on request
• This survey looked at the sugars per 100ml and per standardises 300ml portion of 232 carbonated soft drink products from 9 supermarkets (Aldi, Asda, Lidl, The Co-operative, Morrisons, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose), including supermarket own and branded products
• Where possible, data was collected in store or online via the supermarkets website.
• The survey was carried out between the 1st and 30th May 2014 and products checked week commencing 2nd June 2014
Ref 7- Know Your Fizzy Drinks? for Cola products.  for other sugar-sweetened products
Ref 8 – National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2014
Ref 9 - The mean estimated salt intake, derived from urinary sodium excretion, for adults aged 19 to 64 years was 8.1g per day 
Ref 10 - Based on the current variation within each flavour of carbonated soft drinks surveyed, Action on Sugar suggests the following initial targets for drinks with no added natural or artificial sweeteners, .
Ref 11 – Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) are now ‘Reference Intakes’, although on packaging (GDA) is still labelled on many products
Ref 12 - InterAct c. Consumption of sweet beverages and Type II Diabetes incidence in European adults: results from EPIC-InterAct. Diabetologia 2013;56:1520-30.
Ref 13 - High and low sugar containing examples of products for each flavour of carbonated soft drink, .



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