Study: The amount of sugar in drinks varies widely in the EU


Sugary drinks may cause type 2 diabetes regardless of size, research says. [Dennis S. Hurd/Flickr]

The sugar amount in two of the exact same sodas can vary hugely depending on where in Europe the soft drinks are bought, according to a study by Action on Sugar.  

The survey, which reviewed 274 sugar-sweetened soft drinks produced across the world, found that, for example, a 330 ml can of Fanta Orange contains 39 grammes of sugar in Italy, but only 23 grammes in the UK.

In general, the amount of sugar in soft drink cans appeared to be lower in the UK than in the rest of the EU. Another example was the 330 ml Schweppes Tonic Water can which has 17 grammes of sugar in the UK, but almost double the amount in Germany (30 grammes).

Furthermore, Action on Sugar’s data suggests that 88% of the products (with available nutrition data) contains more than the entire recommendation for the day.

“Overweight and obesity increases healthcare costs and threatens the economic growth on which a country’s future prosperity and wellbeing depend. This survey illustrates the fact that the soft drinks industry is part of the cause of the world’s growing obesity pandemic and action must be taken now,” said Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar.

He added that he believes British Prime Minister David Cameron should look into the issue.

The International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA), which also represents the soft drink manufacturers, commented on Action on Sugar’s survey, saying that its member companies offer a wide variety of beverage options around the world, and innovation is driving more and more reduced, low, and no-calorie choices.

“There is nothing surprising about the amount of sugar in any of our products – it is listed clearly on the label so consumers can make the choice that is right for them. We are committed to providing transparent, fact-based nutrition information,” the ICBA said in the statement.

Companies make products in different countries in different ways to meet government regulations, the ICBA added, as well as to meet varying consumer tastes.

“Along with our current efforts, our member companies will continue to lead the way in helping consumers achieve calorie balance by offering smaller portion sizes, more reduced-, low- and no-calorie beverages, and providing clear, transparent nutrition information,” the beverages association continued. 

Double check labels

Pauline Castres, food policy officer at the European consumer organisation BEUC told EURACTIV that this is a reminder that labels always need to be double checked. 

“A Polish consumer might not expect to gulp one more teaspoon of sugar when drinking its favourite soda when in the UK. Companies often invoke national consumers’ preferences but we need more transparency from said firms as to why the sugar amounts in two exact same sodas vary hugely from one country to another,” Castres said.  

“When the difference is relatively small, such as 2-3 grammes, we could ask companies to work towards adjusting sugar levels. We know consumers’ taste buds adapt over time, so limiting sugar content to 32 or 35 grammes instead of 39 grammes is feasible,” the BEUC’s food policy officer added.

According to BEUC, companies should justify why they sell the same or equivalent products, not only with different amounts of sugar, but in some cases with different ingredients. For example, sugar has been replaced by glucose-fructose syrup in some countries such as the Czech Republic.

“Their best practices can and should be extended to other countries. Changing recipes takes time but clearer labelling is possible right now right there. So if companies are truly committed to inform consumers’ purchasing decisions they should disclose added sugar content on the front of pack,” Castres said.

A new guideline from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to below 5% of their total energy intake or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. This would be lower for young children. 

  • By 2030: An estimated 2.16 billion people will be overweight – of these, 1.12 billion individuals will be obese worldwide, according to the international journal of obesity.

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