Sugar levels in drinks covered by the sugar tax have dropped 10 times faster than foods outside the levy.
Public Health England is challenging the food industry to reduce sugar in the rest of its products by 20% by 2020.
It hopes this drop in sugar will help to improve the level of obesity and tooth decay seen in children.
‘The report shows a mixed picture,’ Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said.
‘Encouragingly, some businesses have made good progress in reducing sugar.
‘But some businesses and categories have made very little or none.
‘We know the public wants the food industry to make food healthier.
‘It is clear this can be done.
‘But we urge the whole of the food and drink industry to keep up the momentum to help families make healthier choices.’
‘Delivering the goods’
The British Dental Association (BDA) argues this ‘voluntary challenge’ to the food industry doesn’t go far enough.
Voluntary measures saw only a 2.9% reduction in the sugar content of foods outside the sugar levy since 2015.
Only cereals and yoghurts are on track to reach a 20% reduction before 2020.
‘The sugar levy is delivering the goods,’ BDA chair, Mick Armstrong, said.
‘It shows hard and fast policy beats volunteerism when it comes to making the food industry change its ways.
‘Ideology must never trump evidence when it comes to public health.
‘Sugar is fuelling both tooth decay and obesity.
‘It is not “nanny statism” to follow tried and tested policies that can help reduce that burden.’
Carrot or stick
Sugar content in drinks covered by the sugar tax has dropped by 28.8% on average between 2015 and 2018.
Despite this, the total tonnes of sugar sold in foods included in the reformulation programme has increased by 2.6%.
‘We all try to get the balance right between the “carrot” and “stick” approach,’ Professor Michael Escudier, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said.
‘But we see today it’s the sticks that are working.
‘The soft drinks industry levy has been successful, with sugar content in fizzy drinks reduced by an average of 28.8%.
‘Meanwhile progress has been limited for the products covered by the voluntary sugar reduction programme.
‘We call for the government to consider extending the soft drinks levy to cover sugary dairy drinks.
‘Reducing children’s sugar intake is vital to tackling child tooth decay.
‘Statistics published yesterday show tooth decay remains the leading cause of hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds, despite being almost entirely preventable.’