When you’re looking through the ingredient lists in food and drink, added sugar can be hiding at every turn. With names like ‘dextrose’, ‘panela’ and ‘evaporated cane juice’, it’s clear companies are pulling out all the tricks to hide how much added sugar is really in what we eat and drink. The good news is, improved sugar labelling can change that!.
Added sugar labelling is back on the agenda and on June 28 State Food and Health Ministers will decide whether to introduce common-sense labels that call out added sugar - or whether to stick with the status quo.
With the help of our supporters, we’re calling for: 3 common-sense changes:
- sugar content of sugar-sweetened beverages to be shown in teaspoons
- The ingredients list should clearly identify added sugars
- Added sugar should be included in the nutritional information panel.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be showing Food Ministers why we need them to take action. Follow this thread to find out how you can help get these decision-makers over the line.
This week, we’d love it if you can share these important articles to get the word out about why we need added sugar labelling:
Why we need added sugar labelling
5 things you didn’t know about added sugar
If you have social media, tweet or share these articles.
How does the proposal address total sugar?
And is the proposal still exposed to gaming by food manufacturers?
In the first instance since food products such as honey and golden syrup have no added sugar they would be zero spoonfuls. Since there is no added sugar I could eat as much of either and still meet the less than 6 spoonfuls of added sugar per day. Just ask Pooh Bear if this does not add up.
Perhaps we need to also talk more directly about total daily consumption of sugar? Included sugar plus added. I think this is the intent of the dietary guidelines?
If I start with a very large quantity of sugar to make a sugar product, is soft drink really a sugar product with added flavouring and emulsifier H2O? Hence zero added sugar! Or does the proposal the ministers are working on have a catch all that suggests such nonsense or veiled variations are not exempt their spoons.
Exactly. Total sugar is more important, whether it is inherent in the main ingredient(s) or added is a sideshow. Getting into an argument about what is added sugar or not added sugar is a complete waste of effort and only encourages gaming the system.
You can make a fruit compote entirely out of fruit. You don’t need to add any white sugar, glucose, golden syrup, HFCS yada yada. Nonetheless it will be very high in sugar.
I can just image the ad campaign:
Nature’s Pyoority Fruity Snackies get 5 stars on the added sugar scale, the healthy snack to put in your toddler’s lunch box. Good mothers serve Nature’s Pyoority and provide abundant energy to grow little bodies strong.
Thanks so much for your response!
You’re right - reducing sugar intakes across the board is still extremely important. Improved added sugar labelling is just one piece of that puzzle, but nonetheless it is very, very important to get right.
The World Health Organisation’s guidelines indicate that reducing added sugar intakes is vital to improving our health (reducing obesity, dental caries and secondary diseases). For more context, I’ll include a snippet from CHOICE’s submission on obesity last year:
2011, 10% of the total burden of disease in Australia was due to dietary risk factors.
As an example, Australians over-consume added sugar but cannot get clear information about added sugars on food labels to reduce intake. In 2011-12 Australians consumed on average 60 grams or 14 teaspoons of added sugar a day. For some teenage males this number increased to 38 teaspoons of added sugar per day, equivalent to the sugar in almost four cans of coke. Added sugars provide empty kilojoules, or kilojoules with little or no associated nutrients. Excess intake of added sugar is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, dental caries and cardiovascular disease. Despite this, consumers have no clear way of knowing how much sugar has been added to a food by looking at the label. The solution is clear and is strongly supported by consumers: clearer labelling of added sugar. Not only would this allow consumers to make an informed choice but it would also encourage manufacturers to reformulate, and reduce added sugars in their products. While this was a recommendation in a 2011 Food Labelling Review, it is only being considered by Food Ministers in late 2018. This example shows that large amounts of risk nutrients such as added sugar in the food supply combined with poor labelling and lack of action can contribute to risk factors associated with obesity.
Added sugar labelling helps people distinguish between naturally occurring (intrinsic) sugars - for example, lactose naturally occurs in milk - and added sugars - for example, sugar that is added to sugar-sweetened flavoured milk.
If you check out the articles that I shared in my earlier post, there is more information on why added sugar labelling is important - it’s a vital part of a bigger-picture conversation about diet and health.
Hi @syncretic - take a look at my response to Mark’s comment for some more context about our campaign.
Signed up to the campaign and tweeted the link. Hope it has success but we have faced very recalcitrant Govts on these issues in the past. You have to wonder why they don’t move harder on these health issues.
Thanks a tonne! Keep an eye on this thread for the next steps in our campaign.
I think we can agree that it is excess sugar that is the problem. There is nothing intrinsically bad about added sugar that isn’t present in non-added sugar. So anything that gets down sugar consumption is good regardless of source. Please tell me if this is wrong.
At present total sugars have to be reported in labels. This kind of labelling is not effective enough (or at all) in getting people to choose lower sugar products. So various lobby groups are proposing methods to reduce sugar intake. A tax on sugary drinks is one, making labeling more accessible and clear, as in number of teaspoons of sugar, is another and explicit labelling added sugar is a third.
The tax approach is a hard road to follow despite there being good evidence that it will be effective and that harm reduction is already used as justification for heavy taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Any new tax is always at risk of being lost in political and ideological noise rather than being treated as harm reduction, ie a health issue. The freedom to guzzle sugar water in large amounts at least cost is a key pillar of democracy: who knew?
I don’t think you will get any argument, except from vendors who fear it may work, about clearer and simpler labels. Similarly hiding sugars behind obscure names is not winning friends outside the industry.
Choice is giving much attention to the added sugar labelling approach. This system assumes that labelling added sugar will alter buying behaviour where labelling total sugar does not. Where can I read the evidence that this is so?
I’ll start by speaking to your first point: “I think we can agree that it is excess sugar that is the problem. There is nothing intrinsically bad about added sugar that isn’t present in non-added sugar. So anything that gets down sugar consumption is good regardless of source. Please tell me if this is wrong.”
That’s not quite right. Naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit and milk are better for us than processed added sugars in packaged food. Take a look at this article in The Conversation written by a couple of experts on this topic: http://theconversation.com/if-sugar-is-so-bad-for-us-why-is-the-sugar-in-fruit-ok-89958
You mention that a sugar tax may be effective. The option that Ministers are currently considering is added sugar labelling, which is why it’s important to focus on this initiative right now. A sugar tax has been implemented in other countries, but is not on the horizon for Australia at present.
To another one of your points: “I don’t think you will get any argument, except from vendors who fear it may work, about clearer and simpler labels. Similarly hiding sugars behind obscure names is not winning friends outside the industry.” - industry has a long history of opposing public health initiatives like improved labelling. This is well-documented in Australia, and overseas.
As to whether labelling makes a difference to buying behaviour, here is an extract from the George Institute’s submission to the Labelling of Sugars in Packaged Food and Drinks:
“FSANZ’s own research suggests the NIP is consistently the most used information for choosing one product over another. FSANZ also found the most commonly checked information in the NIP was the amount of (total) sugars, with 60% of Australians looking for this information. However, without further context,consumers cannot use this information to make decisions consistent with dietary guideline recommendations on added sugars. Our George Institute research suggests around 70 percent of packaged foods contain added sugars in the Australian food supply . This includes 87 percent of discretionary foods and 52 percent of core foods using Australian Dietary Guideline classifications. These figures suggest the widespread utility of providing consumers this additional information.Quantification of added sugars in the NIP would allow people to identify products with added sugars and make effective comparisons within and across product categories to support informed choices.” You can find the full submission here: https://www.georgeinstitute.org.au/sites/default/files/tgi_sugar_labelling_submission_final_19_september_2018.pdf
Finally, I suggest taking a look at the ‘Sugars intake for adults and children’ guideline prepared by the World Health Organisation. This is the leading global advice on added sugar consumption, which has influenced the shape of our campaign https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sugars_intake/en/
Hope that clears things up!
In some cases and in some ways. You will still increase your blood glucose and propensity to obesity and caries on a diet of all ‘natural’ sugar if the amount is in excess.
I find the George Institute submission confusing. Under the question of advisory labels for added sugar it says
“While changing behaviour is not the direct objective of this work, there is evidence acknowledged in the RIS that nutrient-specific labelling on the front-of-pack can assist consumers to identify healthier choices.”
If this labelling is not there to change behaviour what is its purpose?
I agree that if people are ignorant of the relevant facts then they cannot make good decisions. By informing them accurately they may then make good decisions but it doesn’t guarantee that they will. I still don’t see any evidence that added sugar labels will have any more effect than total sugar labels and saying that they are not intended to change behaviour is incomprehensible.
I assume what the submission is saying is that providing people with information is not strictly intended to change behaviours (for example, there are some people who eat a very healthy diet and will not necessarily change their consumption patterns with new labelling). It could also be suggesting that education is not the only way to change behaviour - we know that for public health initiatives to work, we need to create healthier food environments through a range of policies - as mentioned before, added sugar labelling is just one of these.
Healthier food environments can be created through a range of initiatives including reducing junk food advertising, and reducing portion sizes too. Added sugar labelling can certainly influence people’s behaviours when they’re shopping and beyond that, added sugar labelling can encourage positive reformulation from manufacturers (who put less sugar in their products when greater transparency is required).
A good international example can be found in Chile, which put warning labels on products that exceeded stated limits for sugar, salt, energy and saturated fat. These warning labels were only put on products that had sugar, sodium, or saturated fat added to them (i.e. not occurring naturally). This resulted in both behaviour change and reformulation https://www.foodnavigator-latam.com/Article/2019/02/20/Chile-s-food-regulations-are-changing-the-country-s-eating-habits
To sum up: more information about sugar contents in food and drink is helpful because it helps people make informed decisions. This also follows the World Health Organisation’s recommendations (which are international best practice). Added sugar labelling is only one piece of the puzzle, but it is a very important piece!
Perhaps an incentive to apply a tax to sugary drinks/foods along with stronger labelling laws:
Philadelphia introduced a tax on sugary drinks and it seems to have worked causing it appears around a 38% reduction in sugary drink consumption, both San Francisco and Boulder Cities have done similar and had similar results. So both a campaign to label the added sugars and a tax would work hand in hand to change the consumption of so much sugar and added sugar.
Hi @grahroll, as mentioned in the thread above, we are not currently looking at a sugar tax - this option is not on the cards for the near future! While sugar taxes are showing some results in other countries, our Food Ministers are currently considering added sugar, which is the main focus of this campaign.
I am not bagging the labelling at all, I am in agreement. As I posted “along with stronger labelling laws” I was just adding to that call to also look to a future tax as well. Industry without some sort of regulation will always seek the easy way to profits, eg including added sugar as a energy source or filler to a product even when really not needed.
Labelling is a great start but getting some consumers to change behaviour can also sometimes require pecuniary incentive (or disincentive) as well. So I say bring on the labelling changes as quickly as possible but shouldn’t we also look to other answers that may assist even if they are a bit further down the track?
Hi @grahroll - good points! We should always keep our eyes and ears opened for new solutions, especially ones that we see working overseas! When trying to get changes over the line, we try to be as focused as possible. It doesn’t mean that we are ignoring other solutions, it means that if we put the majority of our energy behind a few key priorities we have a better chance of getting them over the line (especially because added sugar and Health Star Ratings are currently up for discussion).
Do you think that added sugar labelling will be more effective than total sugar labelling? Why?
I am not bagging it either, more and accurate data is always good but I see no reason, based on evidence so far, to assume that this approach will actually change behaviour very much.
As Linda has alluded, campaigns are sometimes designed around what you can get done, not what you want to get done.
Just to be clear, we are supportive of keeping total sugar labelling. We just want to have additional information about added sugars.
For example, we have total fats and then saturated fats in the Nutritional Information Panel. You are more than welcome to look at either number, or both!
Any added information that clarifies the additives to a product is useful. I already can see total sugars on products, but adding the additional added sugars to that label allows me to see if “empty” calories have been added (empty calories/kilojoules are typically sugars). When I can “see” the amount of addition I can 1) make an informed choice about the addition, 2) press the maker to adjust their usage of added sugar by not buying it and also by contacting them with my opinion, 3) choose to pick a product that has less added kilojoules while it might not taste the same as the one with more and thus would perhaps not have been the first choice otherwise.
Just to add to this I really hate how some additives can be given a code eg 650 or euro E650 and we then have to consult another reference to actually find out what has been added in layman’s terms (Zinc Acetate in 650’s case) or at least in some more understandable form of language.
The Choice request for help to identify processes food products with labels revealing hidden sugar spurred me to explore the pantry and fridge.
So far it would seem a fruitless task.
Every item, more than a dozen I’ve looked at simple has a single line labelled ‘sugars’!
There are no other ingredients listed that could be a sugar.
I now assume all of the sugar is added!
Even the Woolies - ‘Pear Slices in Juice’ declare simply - sugars 6.7gm/100gms. And they’ve come all the way from South Africa ?
An article regarding the increase in life expectancy in Australia has dramatically slowed due mainly to obesity as our diets are poorer than they were 30 to 40 years ago.
Added sugar would have to be the No.1 factor.