Holly Gabriel

Holly Gabriel, Nutrition Campaigner at Action on Sugar, explains Sugar Awareness Week and why we need better food labeling policy.

Over a year has passed since Sugar Awareness Week 2018 where we highlighted the excessive calorie and sugar content of milkshakes and ‘freakshakes’. Our survey highlighted the lack of nutrition labelling and irresponsible product development by food and drink manufacturers.

We all deserve better and we encouraged everyone to have their say to demand clear, consistent and accessible nutrition labelling on all menu items when we eat out in cafes and restaurants. We also urged everyone to get behind the campaign and respond to the government consultation on out of home labelling.

However, despite strong support, the government are yet to announce any plans to implement nutrition labelling in the out of home sector – a commitment they made in Chapter 2 of their Childhood Obesity Plan. Government has shown they are committed to reducing sugar levels in milk-based drinks by including them in their sugar reduction programme, but our recent survey on festive hot drinks showed that although some manufacturers are engaging with the process, some are clearly not with the most sugary drink surveyed containing an excessive and completely unnecessary 23 teaspoons of sugar. Much more needs to be done to improve these products for everyone.

To mark Sugar Awareness Week 2020 we will draw attention to another category of drinks that are excessively sugary and highlight the patchy provision of nutrition labelling that is far from fit for purpose. We must all put pressure on the newly formed government to implement the measures they promised in 2016 and 2018 to improve the drink options available and so we can access clear consistent nutrition information about the food and drink we buy at point of sale.

Clear, useful information about what is in our food and drinks is a basic right. If you buy an item of clothing to wear you can clearly see what it is made of. And yet, there are still entire categories of food and drink that are not required to declare ingredients or even basic nutrition information. Voluntary schemes have left us with an inconsistent, sporadic array of information which adds confusion rather than supporting healthy choices.

The existence of voluntary reformulation and labelling schemes within a multi-billion pound industry is mind boggling and the government needs to act to ensure that all people, regardless of background and education level can access clear, easily understood information to make informed choices, while also being able to access products which have been responsibly produced so that a healthier life is the easier choice.

Sugar Awareness Week 2020 will run from 20-26 January.