Germany: New study argues against voluntary sugar reduction in soft drinks

According to a recent study, manufacturers of soft drinks are not keeping their promise to reduce the amount of sugar in sweetened drinks in Germany.

Researchers from the German Alliance for Non-Communicable Diseases (DANK), the Ludwig-Maximilians-UniversitätMunich and the Technical University of Munich have determined that the average sugar content of soft drinks in Germany fell by only around 2 percent between 2015 and 2021.

However, the industry had pledged to reduce the sugar content in soft drinks by 15% within 10 years by 2025. At the current rate, the 15 percent target would therefore only be reached in decades. "The beverage industry is not on course to achieve the sugar reduction targets it has set itself," is DANK's conclusion.

"Sugar drinks are considered a key driver of obesity and diabetes," says Barbara Bitzer, spokeswoman for DANK. The reason is that liquids do not give rise to a feeling of satiety so quickly, which means that many calories are absorbed quickly. That is why medical specialist associations, consumer protection groups and health insurance companies are increasingly calling for the sugar content of these drinks to be reduced.

According to the German Society for Nutrition, a large proportion of the sugar intake in Germany comes from sugary drinks such as fruit juices and nectars (26 percent) and lemonades (12 percent).

Too much weight can have dramatic consequences: According to the WHO, 13 percent of all deaths in Europe are due to obesity. The Germans also weigh too much: about 50 percent of all adults and 15 percent of all children and young people in Germany are overweight.

Foodwatch, an independent, non-profit organization that exposes food-industry practices that are not in the interests of consumers, states that the voluntary principle has failed in the fight against malnutrition and obesity. Instead, it needs a soda tax like in the UK. It has been proven that it gives manufacturers incentives to use less sugar, according to FoodWatch.

The authors of the DANK study also looked at sugar levels in the UK. There, the amount of sugar in soft drinks has fallen by 29 percent since 2015. "Obviously, the strategy with financial incentives is much more effective than just saying please," says Oliver Huizinga of the German Obesity Society and co-author of the study.

The sugar tax in UK was announced in UK’s 2016 budget (, 25.8.2016) and came into force from April 2018. The levy is paid by the packager for drinks produced in the UK, or importer for drinks produced overseas, at the following levels:

  • No levy on soft drinks containing less than 5g of sugar per 100ml
  • 18p (USD 0.218) per litre on soft drinks containing between 5g and 8g of sugar per 100ml
  • 24p (USD 0.290) per litre on soft drinks containing more than 8g of sugar per 100ml.

The German Federal Ministry of Food, which was approached by BR24 about the study, did not want to comment conclusively so far.

The scientific work that proves the effect of a sugar tax is not yet sufficient, said a spokesman. The ministry is still awaiting a major review study to be published later this year. The ministry also refers to data from the federal Max Rubner Institute. According to this, the sugar content fell by 3.2 percent between 2018 and 2019. New surveys from 2022 would be published this spring.

Detlef Groß, General Manager of the GermanNon-Alcoholic Beverages Association, is clearly against tightening the regulations. He does not consider the sugar tax to be a suitable instrument and sees the companies on the right track: "All the data that we know about market developments shows that voluntary calorie reduction works." The numerous offers of calorie-free and calorie-reduced variants contribute to this. The manufacturers would advertise these more intensively.

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