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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Barts and The London

Call for Sugar-Sweetened Soft Drink Manufacturers to Set Global Sugar Reduction Targets to Help Halt Worldwide Obesity Epidemic Set to Reach 1.12 billion by 2030


  • 88% of sugar-sweetened soft drink products contain more than your entire recommendation for the day (25g)1 in a 330ml can
  • Sprite in Thailand contains the highest amount of free sugars - a staggering 12 tsp of sugar in a single can2
  • UK manufacturers still producing drinks high in free sugars despite being one of the countries in Europe where obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay are high
  • Leading supermarkets in the UK prefer to follow set sugar reduction targets – branded companies must now do the same



NEW research by Action on Sugar has revealed the shockingly high and unnecessary levels of free sugars3 found globally in sugar-sweetened soft drinks4 and is now calling for ALL international drink manufacturers to unite in setting sugar reduction targets immediately.
Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are linked to the escalating worldwide obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic. Figures show that by 2030, an estimated 2.16 billion people will be overweight – of these, 1.12 billion individuals will be obese5.
The survey, which reviewed 274 sugar-sweetened soft drinks produced across the world, found that every single product (with available nutrition data) would receive a dangerously high red colour-coded label if it were consumed in a standard 330ml can.6 Furthermore, 88% of products (with available nutrition data) contain more than your entire recommendation for the day.7 Indeed if a 330ml can of Coca Cola, Pepsi and 7Up were consumed anywhere in the world, 100% contain more than an entire adult’s maximum daily amount of free sugars for the day (25g – 6 tsp/d). In four out of seven cases, the countries with the highest free sugars content per 330ml were in North America (either Canada or the USA), compared to countries in Europe which had the lowest sugar content. The greatest variation between countries was in Schweppes Tonic Water with a variation of 29g (7 tsp) of sugars between the country (USA) - which produced the most sugary variety of Schweppes Tonic Water – and the country (Argentina) which produced the lowest. Sprite also had a high variation of 28g (7 tsp). Interestingly the sugar-sweetened soft drink products produced by PepsiCo8 generally had less nutritional information available (on average) for consumer reference (i.e. 37% of the products surveyed) which adds to further concern about transparency when it comes to labelling.


United Kingdom In five out of seven iconic products, interestingly it is NOT UK manufacturers who produce the least sugary drinks (Table 2). Coca Cola in Thailand contains 3g LESS free sugars than in the UK (over half a teaspoon in a can).
The results clearly show that sugar-sweetened soft drinks can be easily reformulated in the same way as the very successful salt reduction programme in the UK. Action on Sugar has written to all the leading supermarkets who led the initial work on salt reduction and all have agreed to reformulate their sugar-sweetened soft drinks according to their own programme. What’s more, the majority will reformulate in a more coherent way with reduction targets for each soft drink category overseen by an independent agency, without the addition of artificial sweeteners and a parallel reduction in sweetness of all soft drinks.9 This would result in a large reduction in the free sugars and calorie intake in the UK. Action on Sugar is now calling on the UK government to lead the world by implementing this programme IMMEDIATELY.


Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar, says: “Overweight and obesity increases health-care costs and threatens the economic growth on which a country’s future prosperity and wellbeing depend. This survey illustrates the fact that the soft drinks industry is part of the cause of the world’s growing obesity pandemic and action must be taken now.
“In the UK, all leading supermarkets are either reducing sugars in their soft drinks or have committed to follow sugar reduction targets. Jeremy Hunt has not taken any action for over a year; it’s time David Cameron took the lead on this.”

Kawther Hashem, nutritionist at Action on Sugar says: “It’s high time soft drinks manufacturers around the world stop adding unnecessary sugars and calories to their products and work universally to set sugar reduction targets once and for all. Our research has shown discrepancies between the sugar content in the same carbonated drinks sold across the world and this needs to stop.
“People are drinking spoonful’s of sugar in their carbonated drinks. 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!”

Aubrey Sheiham, Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health at University College London, says: “Tooth decay is the most common cause of pain, especially in children and the main reason why they are admitted to hospital in England. The worldwide epidemic of tooth decay will only be controlled when manufacturers markedly reduce the levels of sugars in their products.”