Health campaigners have formed a group to try to reduce the amount of sugar in food.

UK-based Action on Sugar has been set up to encourage manufacturers to lower the amount of sugar they use in their products in order to tackle rising levels of obesity and diabetes.

It claims a 20-30% reduction in sugar added by the food industry would result in a reduction in calorie intake of approximately 100kcal a day.

The group is led by chairman Professor Graham MacGregor, who is also chairman and founder of Consensus Action of Salt & Health, or CASH.

Action on Sugar claimed the salt campaign group, set up in 1996, had helped set targets for UK manufacturers to cut salt in foods, which had led consumption of the ingredient to fall by 15% between 2001 and 2011.

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By GlobalData

The campaigners behind Action on Sugar said they would use “a similar model” in their bid to lower sugar intake.

However, Action on Sugar said it would aim to ensure there is “clear and comprehensive nutritional labelling” of the sugar content of all processed foods. It said it would campaign to ensure the UK government take action, and that, if the food industry do not comply with the sugar targets, they will enact legislation or impose a sugar tax.

The group also plans to educate the public in becoming more “sugar aware” to understand the impact of sugar on their health. It also wants to highlight children as a “particularly vulnerable group whose health is more at risk from high sugar intakes”.

Prof MacGregor said: “We must now tackle the obesity epidemic both in the UK and worldwide. The present Government and Department of Health Responsibility Deal has been shown to have had no effect on calorie intake and we must start a coherent and structured plan to slowly reduce the amount of calories people consume by slowly taking out added sugar from foods and soft drinks. This is a simple plan which gives a level playing field to the food industry, and must be adopted by the Department of Health to reduce the completely unnecessary and very large amounts of sugar the food and soft drink industry is currently adding to our foods.”

Academics in North America have also helped set up the campaign group. Robert Lustig, Professor of Paediatric Endocrinology at the University Of California, said calories from sugar is different to other ingredients. He also pointed to what he saw as the impact of marketing on children.

“Sugar is dangerous exclusive of its calories, just like alcohol. Children are the primary targets of marketing campaigns, and the least able to resist the messaging. That makes sugary drinks like the alcohol of childhood, which makes them obese. At the same time, this very large sugar intake is likely to put children at greater risk of developing fatty liver and diabetes,” Prof. Lustig said.

The Food and Drink Federation, the association representing UK food and soft drink manufacturers, said there was “no simple or single solution” to obesity. Its members had also worked to lower the sugar in their food, it said. Where sugar was included, labels helped inform shoppers how much of the ingredient they are consuming, it added.

“The food industry has been working on a range of initiatives with other players to tackle obesity and diet related diseases through a number of interventions,” Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science and health at the FDF, said.

“Food and drink producers have also worked to reduce sugar in products where this will result in an overall calorie reduction, many doing so as part of the Government’s Responsibility Deal calorie reduction pledge. Delivering on these commitments will require considerable research and investment as well as consumer acceptance of new recipes that can result in changes in taste, texture and ingredients.”