Will the UK achieve the 20% sugar reduction target by 2020?

Added on
17 Jan 2020
Will the UK achieve the 20% sugar reduction target by 2020?

In 2017, Public Health England (PHE) set a target of a 20% sugar reduction target across 9 food categories by 2020 (using 2015 sugar levels as a baseline).  To help speed things along, a sugar levy was attached to soft drinks - one of the major contributors to the UK's sugar intakes. Additional targets were set for juice and milk-based drinks not included within the sugar levy in 2018.  This is all part of the government's bigger Childhood Obesity programme with the ambitious aim of halving childhood obesity by 2030.

The latest progress report, released in September 2019, showed an overall sugar reduction of just 3% across all the 9 food categories between 2015 and 2018 (in-home).  For foods bought out of home, the report showed a slightly higher 5% sugar reduction for the same categories.  The results are based on the sales weighted average, reflecting what consumers are purchasing.  With just two years remaining, the report shows that we are unlikely to hit the target of 20% sugar reductions by 2020.

Yogurts/fromage frais and breakfast cereal categories have made the biggest improvements with average reductions of 10.3% and 8.5% respectively. Sugar contribution from biscuits, confectionary and ice-creams has reduced little (less than 1%) whilst the pudding category has seen a 0.5% increase in sugar.  

Sugar reductions have not translated into calorie reductions.  Unfortunately, the report also demonstrates no change in the calorie content of products likely to be consumed by an individual in a single occasion. 

Success for the soft drinks' sugar levy

The soft drink's sugar levy has resulted in sugar sales from soft drinks reducing by an impressive 28.8%.  This has been accompanied by a 20.5% reduction in calories likely to be consumed in a single occasion. Interestingly, lower sugar purchases have been least successful with lowest socio-economic groups which achieved a 9% sugar reduction by household vs the 24% overall.

Sugar reduction programme failing to impact on childhood obesity

The sugar reduction programme is one of the key government strategies to meet its ambitious target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.  However, the latest results from the National Child Measurement Programme shows that childhood overweight and obesity levels are on the up.

Over a fifth of 4-5 year olds (reception years) are overweight or obese

  • No improvement since 2015: prevalence 2015/16 22.1% vs 2018/19 22.6%

Almost a tenth of 4-5 year olds are now obese or severely obese

  • An increase since 2015: prevalence 2015/16 9.3% vs 2018/19 9.7%

Over a third (34.3%) of 10-11 year olds are now overweight or obese in the UK

  • Little change since 2015/16 prevalence of 34.2%

Over a fifth (20.2%) of 10-11 year olds are now obese or severely obese!

  • This is up from 2015/16 prevalence of 19.8%


  1. PHE Sept 2019.  Sugar reduction: progress between 2015 and 2018 Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sugar-reduction-progress-between-2015-and-2018
  2. Department of Health & Social Care. Government Response to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee report on Childhood obesity: Time for action, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19.  January 2019. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-time-for-action-report-government-response