Free Sugar Content in Pre-Packaged Products: Does Voluntary Product Reformulation Work in Practice?
Nutrition Institute, Tržaška cesta 40, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, University Children’s Hospital, University Medical Centre Ljubljana, Bohoričeva 20, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Nutrients 2019, 11(11), 2577; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112577
Received: 13 September 2019 / Revised: 22 October 2019 / Accepted: 23 October 2019 / Published: 25 October 2019
Ultra-processed, pre-packaged foods are becoming a growing part of our diet, while displacing whole and minimally processed foods. This results in an increased intake of free sugar, salt, and saturated fats, that have a profoundly negative effect on health. We aimed to assess the trend in free sugar content in pre-packaged foods in Slovenia and evaluate the efficacy of industry self-regulations designed to combat the excess consumption of free sugar. A nation-wide data collection of the Slovenian food supply was performed in 2015 and repeated in 2017. In 2017, 54.5% of all products (n = 21,115) contained free sugars (median: 0.26 g free sugar/100 g). Soft drinks became the main free sugar source among pre-packaged goods (28% of all free sugar sold on the market) in place of chocolates and sweets, of which relative share decreased by 4.4%. In the categories with the highest free sugar share, market-leading brands were often sweeter than the average free sugar value of the category. This indicates that changes in on-shelf availability towards a greater number of healthier, less sweet products are not necessarily reflected in healthier consumers’ choices. Relying solely on voluntary industrial commitments to reduce free sugar consumption will likely not be sufficient to considerably improve public health. While some further improvements might be expected over the longer term, voluntarily commitments are more successful in increasing the availability of healthier alternatives, rather than improving the nutritional composition of the market-leading products. Additional activities are, therefore, needed to stimulate reformulation of the existing market-leading foods and drinks, and to stimulate the consumption of healthier alternatives.