Sugar intake in children 'double recommended level'

Boy looking at a pile of sugary food Image copyright Thinkstock

Children aged four to 10 are consuming twice as much sugar as they should be and teenagers three times as much, a national survey of diets has found.

It also found that adults are still eating too much saturated fat and not enough fruit, vegetables and fibre.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health called the results "extremely worrying".

Public Health England said it would be challenging the food industry to cut sugar by 20% in its products.

It maintained this would help to reduce child obesity levels.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey, funded by Public Health England and the UK Food Standards Agency, has been run for the past six years collecting data on diet across the UK.

These latest results were from a survey of 1,288 adults and 1,258 children who completed a three or four-day food diary between 2012 and 2014.

Sugary drinks drop

Although sugar intake in children is still too high, there was a slight drop in the volume of sugary drinks consumed among four to 10-year-olds - from 130ml per day in 2008-10 to 100ml in 2012-14.

But sugar still makes up 13% of children's daily calorie intake and 15% of teenagers' daily diet - much more than the 5% recommended limit.

Adults consume a high level of sugar too, making up 12% of their diets on average.

These figures have remained more or less the same since 2008.

How much sugar should we eat?

  • age 2 - less than 13 grams or 1 to 3 teaspoons per day
  • age 3 - less than 15 grams or 2 to 4 teaspoons per day
  • age 4 to 6 - less than 19 grams or 3 to 5 teaspoons per day
  • age 7 to 10 years - less than 24 grams or 4 to 6 teaspoons per day
  • age 11 and over - less than 30 grams or 5 to 7 teaspoons per day

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, only 8% of 11 to 18-year-olds meet the five-a-day portions recommendation.

On average, teenagers manage just 2.8 portions per day while adults eat about four portions.

The survey found that people in the UK continue to consume too much saturated fat.

Children aged four to 10 have diets in which 13% of their daily calorie intake comes from saturated fat, compared with a target of under 11%.

Image copyright Thinkstock

The figure is 12.6% for those aged 11 to 18, while adults get 12.7% of their energy from saturated fat.

Average intake of red and processed meat should not exceed 70g per day, but men still eat too much while women are reducing the amount they consume.

Industry challenge

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the survey showed that everyone needed to eat more fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish while cutting back on sugar, salt and saturated fat.

She said: "While it is encouraging that young children are having fewer sugary drinks, they still have far too much sugar in their diet overall, along with teenagers and adults.

"To help tackle this, PHE is launching a programme to challenge the food industry to remove at least 20% of the sugar in its products by 2020. It's an ambitious programme, a world first, and will be a significant step on the road to reducing child obesity levels."

One in three children currently leaving primary school is overweight or obese and there are concerns that in the future more adults will increase their risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Advertising ban

Prof Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "The results of this survey are extremely worrying.

"This is why we are surprised the long-awaited UK government childhood obesity strategy did not include a number of recommendations aimed at protecting children, such as a ban on advertising junk food and limiting their sale around schools."

She called for the measures to be reconsidered.

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