Public Health England (PHE) has published new guidelines designed to cut the amount of sugar in nine products categories, including yoghurt, breakfast cereals and biscuits, under a bid to reduce consumption by 5 percent this year and overall by a fifth by 2020.

Guidelines for how the food industry can reduce the sugar contained in its products has also been published, through modifying recipes, reducing portion sizes and encouraging the purchase of low/no sugar products.

The reduction programme could see 200,000 tonnes of sugar removed from the UK market per year by 2020, according to PHE.

Late last year NHS Digital published figures showing that the number of children in the UK classed as overweight or obese had reached a record high.

The prevalence of obesity rose from 9.1 percent in 2014/15 to 9.3 percent in 2015/16 for children in reception and from 19.1 percent to 19.8 percent for those in year six, according to data from the National Child Measurement Programme in England.

More than one in three children (34.2 percent) in year 6 was either overweight or obese in 2015-16, compared to 22.1 percent in reception year, and the figures also show that obesity prevalence for children in reception living in the most deprived areas (12.5 percent) was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas (5.5 percent), further highlighting health inequalities.

“We cannot afford for the next generation of children to continue on this trajectory. Obesity is already costing the NHS over £6bn - a figure it can ill afford - thanks to the development of conditions like Type II diabetes and asthma, all of which we are seeing much earlier. This of course has a knock-on effect on NHS resources,” said Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, at the time.

“Overweight and obese children are likely to carry this health problem into adulthood, increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers,” noted PHE’s Chief Nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone. “Levels of obesity are higher in children from deprived backgrounds. Tackling the amount of sugar we eat is not just a healthy thing to do, but an issue of inequality for many families.”

“This government believes in taking a common-sense approach to improving public health and that includes changing the addictive relationship our children have with sugar,” added public health minister Nicola Blackwood. “Many companies have already taken impressive steps to rise to this challenge but it’s important that everyone steps up. We should seize this unique opportunity to be global leaders in food innovation.”

Sugar reduction is part of a wider PHE led food reformulation programme, which also includes work already underway with the industry to encourage salt reduction and that planned for later this year on calorie reduction.