BBC News - Campaigners vow to cut sugar in food

9 January 2014 Last updated at 05:30 ET

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A campaign group has been formed to reduce the amount of sugar added to food and soft drinks in an effort to tackle obesity and diabetes in the UK.

Action on Sugar has been set up by the team behind Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash), which has pushed for cuts to salt intake since the 1990s.

The new group aims to help people avoid "hidden sugars" and get manufacturers to reduce the ingredient over time.

It believes a 20% to 30% reduction in three to five years is within reach.

Like Cash, Action on Sugar will set targets for the food industry to add less sugar bit by bit so that consumers do not notice the difference in taste.

Sugar in food

Well-known food and drink products and their sugar content:

Source: Action on Sugar

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James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News

Sugar is a widespread presence in our food and it's often found in unexpected places,

It's probably no surprise that a can of cola contains nine teaspoons of sugar.

But some tins of tomato soup and bottles of flavoured water have four teaspoons of sugar crammed inside. And seemingly healthy fat-free yoghurt often has a high sugar content.

The NHS says most children and adults in the UK are consuming too much sugar.

The primary concern is obesity - being high in sugar means being high in calories.

Nearly two thirds of people in the UK are overweight or obese - leading to other health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Some argue that the problems with sugar are even deeper than the calorie content, and that high doses of the sweet stuff can increase the risk of diseases such as a fatty liver.

It says the reduction could reverse or halt the obesity epidemic and would have a significant impact in reducing chronic disease in a way that "is practical, will work and will cost very little".

'Completely unnecessary'

The group listed flavoured water, sports drinks, yoghurts, ketchup, ready meals and even bread as just a few everyday foods that contain large amounts of sugar.

A favourite tactic of Cash has been to name and shame products with large quantities of salt.

Action on Sugar chairman Graham MacGregor, who is professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and set up Cash in 1996, said: "We must now tackle the obesity epidemic both in the UK and worldwide.

"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."

Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, said: "Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes no feeling of satiety.

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The size of some of the cups Coca-cola is sold in "need to come down" says president of Coca-cola Europe James Quincey

"Aside from being a major cause of obesity, there is increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver."