OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM, and LEEDS, UNITED KINGDOM — Two studies published in the decade’s first month show promising results for sugar reduction in the United Kingdom near the end of the last decade. One study reported a 30% decline in sugar consumption in soft drinks, and another one found an overall 13% decrease in total sugar content in yogurts.

Researchers from the University of Oxford led the soft drink study, which appeared online Jan. 13 in BMC Medicine and may be found here. They found the volume of sugars sold per capita per day from soft drinks in the United Kingdom declined by 30% from 2015 to 2018, which was equivalent to a reduction of 4.6 grams of sugar per capita per day.

The rate of reductions increased after a soft drink industry levy went into effect in April 2018. Products containing more than 8 grams of sugar per 100-ml were taxed at 24 pence per liter. Products containing 5 to 8 grams were taxed at 18 pence per liter.

The sales-weighted mean sugar content of soft drinks fell to 2.9 grams per 100 ml in 2018 from 4.4 grams per 100 ml in 2015. The total volume sales of soft drinks subject to the levy fell by 50%. The total volume sales of soft drinks containing less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 ml rose by 40%.

The analysis showed 73% of the reduction came from the reformulation of existing products or the introduction of new drinks lower in sugar. Changes in purchasing behavior led to the other 27% of the reduction. The quantity of sugar reduced in drinks sold by the two biggest companies, Coca-Cola Co. and Britvic P.L.C., declined by 17% and 26%, respectively.

The cross-sectional study used nutrient composition data of 7,377 products collected online that were paired with volume sales data for 195 brands offered by 57 companies. The study divided the soft drinks into eight categories: bottled water, carbonates, concentrates, 100% juice, juice drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and others although bottled water and 100% juice were excluded from the levy.

The Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford provided funding.

The yogurt study involved scientists from the University of Leeds and was published online Jan. 8 in Nutrients. It may be found here. The results demonstrated the median sugar content of yogurt products in the United Kingdom declined by 13% in two years.

The researchers collected 893 yogurt, fromage frais and dairy dessert products and found the median total sugar contents fell to 10.4 grams per 100 grams in January 2019 from a baseline of 11.9 grams per 100 grams in 2016.

Of the 893 products, 354, or about 40%, were new, which demonstrated “dynamic” turnover in available yogurt products during the 26 months between the surveys, according to the study. The other 539 products had the same name in both the 2016 and 2019 databases.  Among these 539 paired products, 32% had reduced sugar contents, but 61% had sugar levels that stayed the same and 7% saw an increase in sugar levels. The results suggested the overall median dropped as a result of higher sugar products being discontinued, according to the study.

In 2019, 15% of the total products qualified as low sugar, meaning they had 5 grams or less of sugar per 100 grams, which was an improvement from 9% in 2016. Overall, sugar was reduced in 61% of the products in the children’s category and 43% of the products in the fruit category.

“Simply put, lowering sugar intake is the best way to prevent obesity and protect our teeth, particularly for small children,” said Bernadette Moore, Ph.D., associate professor of obesity in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds University. “So these are encouraging findings and a good insight into current market trends, but recent research has shown a common lack of awareness about how much sugar is in our food. Yogurt in particular has something we refer to as a ‘health halo,’ where sugar contents of what are considered healthy foods are underestimated.

“Yogurt definitely can have health benefits, but ultimately the final nutrient composition depends on the type of milk used and the ingredients added during production, which often include additional sugars and other sweeteners.”

The number of products in the dairy alternatives category rose to 67, or 7.5% of total products, in 2019 from 38, or 4.2%, in 2016. The study found 37% of the products in the dairy alternatives category contained less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams, but 27% had more than 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams.

“Dairy alternative and plant-based milks have grabbed people’s interest for a number of ethical and environmental reasons,” Dr. Moore said. “It’s a trend we see mirrored in the rise of yogurts that use almond and cashew nuts as their base, as well as an increased number of soya- and coconut-based yogurts. The question of whether plant-based yogurts provide the same nutritional and health benefits as those made from cow’s milk is currently under investigation.”

Organic fruit yogurts and organic natural/Greek yogurts had higher median sugar contents than their non-organic counterparts. No differences in median sugar levels were observed for the flavored and dessert categories.

“Without compositional analysis, it cannot be ruled out that organic products may use a higher proportion of milk with its intrinsic lactose and galactose from lactose fermentation contributing to higher total sugar contents,” the study said.

The research received no external funding.