Children in England have consumed more than a year’s worth of sugar in less than six months, figures show.
While four-to-10-year-olds should not have more than the equivalent of five to six sugar cubes per day, they are consuming 13 on average, according to data from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
This means children will have around 4,760 cubes of sugar by the end of the year – more than double the maximum recommendation.
Children are reaching the upper recommended annual limit by the end of May, according to Public Health England (PHE) analysis.
The Obesity Health Alliance described the figures as “extremely worrying”.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: “We’re barely halfway through the year and already children have consumed far more sugar than is healthy – it’s no surprise this is contributing to an obesity crisis.
“Snacks and drinks are adding unnecessary sugar to children’s diets without us even noticing.
“Swapping to lower or no added sugar alternatives is something all parents can work towards.”
Sugary soft drinks, including squash, fizzy and energy drinks, are one of the main sources of sugar in children’s diets, contributing more than ice cream and puddings together, PHE said.
One 500ml can of energy drink can contain 13 cubes of sugar.
Caroline Cerny, of coalition group the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “The recently implemented soft drinks industry levy is a welcome step towards tackling the over-consumption of sugar, particular as these findings reveal that soft drinks contribute to 10% of children’s sugar intake.
“But these startling figures highlight the need for further robust action from Government in their upcoming second edition of the Childhood Obesity Plan.
“A package of measures including restrictions on the advertising of junk food to children, action on price promotions on unhealthy products and clearer food labelling will help parents to make healthy choices and ensure their children have the healthiest possible start in life.”
The body’s Change4Life campaign is urging parents to make small changes to their children’s diets to reduce sugar intake.
It suggests swapping sugary drinks for plain water, lower fat plain milk or sugar-free products.
Fruit juices, which count as one of the “five-a-day” but can also contain lots of sugar, should be limited to 150ml daily, according to the guidance.
Gavin Partington, director general at British Soft Drinks Association, said the industry has “led the way in calorie and sugar reduction”.
He said: “According to PHE’s Sugar Reduction Progress Report, sugar intake from soft drinks has decreased by almost five times as much as other categories.
“We are the only category on track to achieving PHE’s calorie reduction target of 20% by 2020.
“We hope our actions on sugar reduction, portion size and promotion of low and no calorie products set an example for the wider food sector.”