Supporting evidence-informed policy work on added sugars labelling

Sugar has long been identified as harmful to health. There is consistent public guidance to limit sugar intake to prevent non-communicable diseases including diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

Sugars are carbohydrates that can occur naturally in foods such as milk and fruit. Sugars can also be ‘added’ to food and drinks by the manufacturer or consumer to improve taste and shelf-life. It is these ‘added sugars’ that Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines recommend we avoid, yet manufacturers are currently only required to provide ‘total sugars’ information in the mandatory nutrition information panel. This means consumers have no easy way to identify the specific sugars they should be avoiding.

To address this problem, Food Ministers in Australia and New Zealand are currently considering ways to improve sugars labelling to give consumers better information and make informed and healthier food choices.

To support this work, in 2021, VicHealth commissioned The George Institute for Global Health to investigate what food components should be included in a definition of ‘added sugars’ if regulatory reforms were to proceed.

There is currently no universally agreed definition of ‘added sugars’ used in policies worldwide. For example, Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines currently recommend avoiding added sugars, whereas World Health Organization (WHO) guidance relates to ‘free’ sugars, which includes all added sugars plus all nonintact (i.e., juiced, or pureed) fruit and vegetables.

The ‘Supporting evidence-informed policy work on added sugar’ Report provides a comparative analysis of definitions of ‘added’ and ‘free’ sugars currently used elsewhere in law and policy. These definitions have been mapped against available evidence on the relationship between specific sugars and ill health to make recommendations on which groups of sugars should be the focus of any labelling reform.

Based on our findings, we propose the definition of ‘added sugars’ used in any future Australian and New Zealand reform must capture all food components covered by the term ‘free sugars’ as used by WHO, and recently applied in the United Kingdom. In the full report we apply this proposed definition to sample products and highlight potential loopholes at stake. We also provide answers to commonly raised practical challenges related to implementing improved sugars labelling.

Outcomes of this work will be of use to public health and consumer stakeholders making consistent submissions on evidence-informed public health policy while FSANZ is developing regulation.

Read the full report on this page.