High sugar content of UK yogurts revealed

Researchers at the University of Leeds and Surrey have recently found that many yogurts, particularly those aimed towards children, contain high levels of sugar.

The team analysed the nutritional value of 921 products sold in 5 of the major UK supermarkets. Products were split into 8 categories: children’s (n=101), dairy alternatives (n=38), dessert (n= 161), drinks (n=70), flavoured (n=79), fruit (n=317), natural/Greek (n=61) or organic (n=71).

Those in the ‘dessert’ category were found to have the highest median sugar content (16.4 g/100 g), as to be expected. ‘Organic’ and ‘children’s’ yogurts contained 13.1 g/100 g and 10.8 g/100 g, respectively. The group with the lowest median total sugar content were ‘natural/Greek’ yogurts (5 g/100 g).

According to UK labelling guidelines, to be classed as ‘low sugar’ and therefore receive a green traffic light on front-of-pack labelling, products must contain 5 g or less of sugar per 100 g. Quite shockingly, less than 9% of products were classed as low sugar and only 2% of ‘children’s’ yogurts met this classification.

Yogurts are a good source of protein, calcium and iodine, among others, and are considered to be a healthy food, especially for babies and children. Those under the age of 3 years are the largest consumer of yogurts in the UK. However, the findings from this study suggest that while yogurts do have benefits to health, especially for a developing child, the majority are also a hidden source of sugar and could be playing a role in the increase in obesity and tooth decay in young children.

The study also identified the range of portion sizes available for both children and adults. Many in the ‘children’s’ category were in fact the same size as those marketed towards adults. Adding another layer of complexity for parent’s to navigate around.

The study highlights the need for reformulation of yogurts to contain far less sugar. It is important to note that since the products in the study were analysed, the Government has launched a ‘Sugar Reduction Programme’ with the aim to reduce the sugar content of certain products by 20 % by 2020. In the first year of the programme, the sugar content of ‘yogurts and fromage frais’ was reduced by 5 %. However, even with this reduction, many of the products analysed still would not meet the ‘low sugar’ classification, demonstrating that there is still work to do.

Parents needs to be clear on the levels of sugar found in the foods they are feeding their children but should not be put off giving their children yogurts. Instead, results should prompt parents to offer their child natural or greek yogurts with added whole fruits for sweetness, as a low sugar option whilst contributing to the recommended 5 a day.

For more information please see the University of Leeds or access the paper published in BMJ Open here.

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