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There was a 29% reduction in the total amount of sugar sold in soft drinks in the UK between 2015 and 2018, despite an increase in sales of soft drinks by volume of 7%, according to new research from  NDPH. 

There has been considerable pressure on industry to reduce the sugar content of soft drinks and in April 2018, the British government introduced the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) to help tackle childhood obesity. 

Lead researcher Lauren Bandy and her colleagues looked at the nutritional information of a range of soft drinks in the UK, including carbonated drinks, concentrates, juice drinks, 100% juice, energy drinks, sports drinks and bottled water, and combined this with sales data from 2015-2018. 

Bandy said: ‘This study is not designed to evaluate the specific effects of the SDIL, but nonetheless shows that sustained pressure on business, including using fiscal measures, has led to a striking reduction in the sugar content of soft drinks in the UK.’ 

The research, published in BMC Medicine, shows that individual soft drink companies in the UK are making a sizeable contribution to sugar reduction, with eight out of the top ten companies reducing the sugar content of their products by 15% or more. 

The two biggest companies, Coca-Cola and Britvic, had reduced the total quantity of sugars they sold in drinks by 17% and 26% respectively, although the sugar content of their flagship brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi remained unchanged. There were increases in volume sales of sugars in drinks sold by Innocent and Red Bull; the sugar content of their products was largely unchanged, but the companies had seen increases in overall volume sales. 

The analysis shows that 73% of the reduction seen in the amount of sugar sold in soft drinks was due to reformulation of existing products or the introduction of new, lower sugar drinks, and 27% was due to changes in purchasing behaviour. 

Lauren Bandy said: ‘It is encouraging to see such a large reduction in sugars sold in soft drinks. This is largely a result of change in the composition of drinks but there have also been shifts in consumer purchasing behaviour, with more consumers choosing drinks with low, or no, sugar content. These changes are likely to be due to a combination of government action, mostly through the SDIL, changes in marketing practices on the part of the soft drinks industry, and greater awareness of the harms caused by sugary drinks amongst consumers. They show that it is possible for improvements in public health to be consistent with successful business practices.’