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Implementing a voluntary food reformulation policy led to substantial changes in the consumption of excessive sugar, which was associated with overcoming commercial, operational, and technical barriers. 

The Childhood Obesity Plan in the UK targets the reduction of sugar and energy in dietary components via a voluntary sugar-reduction program. This study aimed to assess the success of this implementation strategy in the out-of-home sector (specifically, desserts served at popular chain restaurants) using a cross-sectional design. 

The findings, published in the journal Nutrients, indicate that energy/portion had a positive association with sugar/portion and weight; however, no association was seen between sugar/100 g and energy/portion. Moreover, adults’ desserts exceeded the guidelines compared to children’s desserts regarding sugar and saturated fat composition. 

Study Characteristics

The study sample consisted of 78 restaurant chains, out of which 71 had provided nutritional data in 2018. The largest categories of products included cakes, puddings, and ice cream. 

Sugar/Portion Reduced by 3.4 g Towards Public Health England Goals

In the context of progression towards Public Health England (PHE) outcomes, a significant reduction in sugar/portion occurred from 30.5 g to 27.1 g. The energy/portion ratio was significantly reduced from 367 kcal to 352 kcal. The ice cream category demonstrated a more than 20% sugar-reduction target, with sugar decreasing from 40.5 g to 25.2, fat decreasing from 11.2 g to 8.4 g, and energy decreasing from 322 kcal to 225 kcal. These changes were statistically significant. Moreover, the ice cream category demonstrated significant energy reduction.

Variations in Sugar and Energy Content Among Dessert Brands

There were large differences in the average values of sugar and energy content within the same brand channel. Only 4 out of 48 brands significantly reduced the sugar content in their desserts, and of these, 2 brands also decreased the energy content. The correlation between energy and nutrients was stronger when the nutrients were represented per portion instead of per 100 g for children’s and adults’ desserts. 

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Children’s Desserts Were Found to Be Less Nutritious Than Adults

There were substantially lower quantities of nutrients and energy per portion in children’s desserts than in adults’ desserts. These significant differences were observed in the pudding and ice cream categories. While cakes comprised a minority (10%) of products, they had the worst nutritional profile. 

Positive Link Between Energy, Sugar, and Weight

Energy/portion had a positive association with sugar/portion and weight; however, no association was seen between sugar/100 g and energy/portion. The adults’ desserts exceeded the guidelines compared to children’s desserts for sugar (54% of adults’ vs. 39% of children’s products) and saturated fat (63% of adults’ vs. 28% of children’s products). 

Source: 

Pepper, T., Hart, K., & Hodgkins, C. (2023). Tackling (Childhood) Obesity through a Voluntary Food Reformulation Policy: A Repeated Cross-Sectional Study Investigating Nutritional Changes in the Out-of-Home Sector. Nutrients, 15(14), 3149. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15143149