Frequently Asked Questions (Public)
1. What are the adverse health effects of consuming food with high sugar? What is the health status of the local population?
Consuming free sugars increases the risk of dental caries (tooth decay). Excess calories from food and drinks high in free sugars also contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which can lead to overweight and obesity. According to a survey conducted by the Department of Health (DH) in 2014, 39 per cent of the population aged between 18 and 64 were classified as overweight and obese. The Oral Health Survey 2011 released by DH shows that around half of the 5-year old children have tooth decay experience.
2. What are the recommendations of the World Health Organization on daily sugar intake?
In March 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a new set of guidelines with two strong recommendations: (i) a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the lifecourse; and (ii) in both adults and children, reduce the intake of free sugars to less than ten per cent of total energy intake. This translates into less than about 50 grams of free sugars (about 10 sugar cubes) per day for someone having a 2000-Kcal diet. The WHO also makes a conditional recommendation and suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below five per cent of total energy intake. Free sugars refer to monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
3. What actions have been taken by the Centre for Food Safety to reduce dietary sugar?
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been striving to safeguard food safety and promote healthy eating in Hong Kong, including conducting relevant risk assessment studies, implementing nutrition labelling scheme in prepackaged foods and preparing Trade Guidelines for Reducing Sugars and Fats in Foods. Furthermore, the CFS established a Working Group on Reducing Sugar in Prepackaged Beverages in 2013 to discuss with the trade on reducing sugar in prepackaged beverages.
4. What is the objective of setting up an International Advisory Panel?
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been striving to reduce dietary sodium and sugars in Hong Kong. In order to strengthen our efforts, the Government set up an International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Reduction of Dietary Sodium and Sugar in early 2014, and appointed five renowned public health experts from the Mainland and overseas as members. In Mar 2015, all members accepted the appointment by the Secretary for Food and Health, and the Panel was retitled to International Advisory Panel (IAP) on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food. IAP members will share experience in other jurisdictions and offer professional advice on the reduction of salt and sugar intake by the local population in Hong Kong, including but not limited to: (a) assessment of local situation; (b) setting out priority areas of reduction of salt and sugars in food and formulation of local reduction targets; (c) formulation, implementation and evaluation of action plans; and (d) promotion and public education strategy.
5. What are the recommendations of International Advisory Panel? What are the follow-up actions of the Centre for Food Safety?
The International Advisory Panel (IAP) opines that successful promotion of reduction of dietary sodium (salt) and sugar in Hong Kong relies on the tripartite collaboration among the government, food trade and consumers. In addition to the promotion and supporting efforts by the government at policy level, the food trade should also be concerned about the relevant issues and make greater efforts to reformulate food recipes to provide more quality food with less sodium (salt) and sugar to consumers. To avoid adverse health effects caused by excessive intake of sodium (salt) and sugar, consumers are advised to make careful choices, read nutrition labels and choose prepackaged food with lower sodium and sugar content. They could also change their dietary habits by reducing the amount of salt or sodium-containing seasonings added to food and cutting down on food with excessive sugar so as to allow the taste buds to adapt gradually to the light-flavoured food.
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been striving to safeguard food safety and promote healthy eating in Hong Kong, including conducting relevant risk assessment studies, implementing nutrition labelling scheme in prepackaged foods and preparing trade guidelines on reducing dietary sodium, sugar and fats. The CFS will continue to work closely with the Department of Health in future to further promote the reduction of dietary sodium (salt) and sugar in Hong Kong for the whole population, with reference to the expert advice of the IAP.
6. In addition to consulting the food trade, does the Centre for Food Safety conduct studies on the sugar content in different kinds of food when setting the sugar reduction target?
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been conducting risk assessment studies (some as conjoint studies with the Consumer Council) in order to understand the nutrients in foods, including the sugar content. An example was the Sugars Content of Some Non-packaged Food in Hong Kong published in July 2014. The CFS will continue to conduct studies on sugar content in different kinds of foods, and is planning to conduct a food consumption survey to better understand the amount of sugar intake of the local population.
7.Does the Centre for Food Safety have priority in certain kinds of food for reduction of sugar content? And why?
The results of the studies conducted by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) show that carbonated drinks and fruit juices were popular among children in Hong Kong. Yet, sugar in these drinks only increase the risk of overweight, obesity and dental caries but have little nutritional value. Therefore, the CFS will liaise with the trade on reducing sugar in carbonated drinks and fruit juices, with reference to the advice of the International Advisory Panel on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food (formerly known as International Advisory Panel on Reduction of Dietary Sodium and Sugar in Hong Kong) and the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, as well as the international experience in reducing dietary sugar.
8. What actions can the public take to reduce dietary intake of sugar?
To avoid adverse health effects caused by excessive intake of sugar, the public is advised to make careful choices, read nutrition labels and choose food with lower sugar content. In Hong Kong under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulation (Cap.132W), prepackaged food with "low sugars" or "no sugars" claim must contain no more than 5 grams or 0.5 grams of sugars respectively per 100 grams of solid/per 100 millilitres of liquid food.
The public could also change their dietary habits by cutting down on food with excessive sugar. They could replace confectionaries, desserts and drinks (e.g. cake, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks, 3 in 1 tea or coffee, fruit juice) with fruits, sugar free sweets, sugar free soft drinks, Chinese tea, and drinking water. This can allow the taste buds to become accustomed to food with less sugar.