Voluntary guidelines had virtually no effect on the nutritional value of foods and beverages sold by major processors in the United Kingdom, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Oxford studied the nutritional profile of all the products sold by the 10 largest food and beverage processors active in the UK between 2015 and 2018. More than 3,000 products were evaluated for calories, saturated fat, total sugar, sodium level, fiber, protein and other nutrients, to see if they conformed to guidelines that the UK government has set over the years.
In results published in the journal Plos, the researchers found only a slight increase in healthy products between 2015 and 2018. The proportion of products from the big processors under study that could be classified as healthy rose only from 46% to 47% in that time. The sales volume of healthy products rose from 44% to 51%.
Moreover, almost all of those modest gains could be attributed to a tax on sugary soft drinks that the UK imposed in 2018. The tax, which is calibrated according to how much sugar is in a beverage serving, was credited with motivating beverage processors to increase their output of water and sugar-free sodas, boosting their nutritional scores.
“We saw little evidence that the recommended current targets have made a significant difference, and we believe that without more policy action and a transparent monitoring and evaluation system, it is unlikely there will be meaningful change,” Oxford researcher Lauren Bandy said in a statement quoted by Medical News Today.