Lunchtime meal deals contain up to 30 teaspoons of sugar, survey finds
Lunchtime meal deals in supermarkets and high street shops are packed with as many as 30 teaspoons of sugar, according to research.
Health campaigners Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London, are calling for all high-sugar drinks and confectionery to be excluded from popular meal deal promotions.
A survey by the group has revealed particular food and drink combinations from WHSmith and Tesco contain 30 teaspoons of sugar, which the group says is the amount of sugar in 79 chocolate fingers and more than four times an adult's daily maximum intake of free sugars.
The WHSmith combination which the group refers to is tuna and sweetcorn on malted brown bread plus the option of a Mountain Dew Citrus Blast 500ml drink and a bag of Skittles Crazy Sours - a meal that contains 811 kcal.
The Tesco combination selected is the supermarket's Smokehouse Pulled Chicken with Mesquite Style Sauce with a Monster Energy 500ml drink and Mars Duo - a meal that contains 1,004 kcal.
Others coming in with high amounts of sugar included Morrisons' Sweet Chilli Chicken Wrap with Relentless Passion Punch Energy 500ml drink and Millionaire Shortbread (28 teaspoons of sugar and 1048 kcal), and the Co-op Meal Pot Blackbean Pulled Beef & Noodle with Rockstar Blueberry Pomegranate Acai energy 500ml drink and Rocky Road Bar (28 teaspoons of sugar and 855 kcal).
The group said an example combination from Boots contained 24 teaspoons of sugar and 829 kcal, an example from Marks & Spencer contained 20 teaspoons of sugar and 936 kcal, and an example from Sainsbury's contained 20 teaspoons of sugar and 790 kcal.
At the same time, the survey shows the shops offer combinations that amount to much lower amounts of sugar - with some deals having as little as one teaspoon of sugar in total.
But the campaigners say the majority of retailers are failing to promote healthy choices to their consumers.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, and chairman of Action on Sugar, said: "Eating too much sugar is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.
"It may seem like it's a good deal for our wallets, but some meal deal choices are a bad deal for our health.
"Furthermore, both manufacturers and retailers have a responsibility to their customer's health and should go well beyond reducing the sugar in their products by 20%, as Public Health England is calling for."
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: "Retailers have a responsibility to make the healthy choice the easier choice.
"Promotions, such as meal deals, have a role to play in achieving this and enabling industry to reduce the amount of sugar we buy and consume.
"Industry is engaging positively in the sugar reduction programme for which we will publish a report in March 2018 - it will highlight where progress has been made and where further work is needed."
A Tesco spokesman said: "This example is just one of over 13 million different meal deal combinations so our customers can choose from a wide variety of healthy options.
"We're continuously making our products healthier so it's easier for our customers to make healthy choices."
A Marks & Spencer spokeswoman said: "Our popular meal deal provides a balance of healthy and more indulgent options for our customers, with the mix and match element allowing customers to choose foods and drinks that suit their needs.
"We continue to offer healthy options across our meal deals and are pleased to have been found by CASH to offer the healthiest balance of drinks across meal deals."
A Morrisons spokesman said: "We offer thousands of meal deal combinations for just £3, many of which include low-sugar and sugar-free drink options."
Cathryn Higgs, head of food policy at the Co-op, said: "We are committed to helping consumers eat better and have a wide choice of healthy lunchtime products for shoppers.
"Each part of our lunchtime meal deal includes a healthier option from fruit packs to low-fat or calorie sandwiches, salads and drinks without high sugar and all of our lunchtime own label products have traffic light labelling."
A spokeswoman for Boots said: "Our comprehensive healthy food strategy includes a nutritional framework for Boots Shapers, Nutritious and Delicious ranges, this includes controlled levels of calories, fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar in our foods, and our Shapers meal deal offers a lunch for under 500 calories.
"Healthier options such as fruit and nuts have always been included in the Boots Meal Deal since it started in 1999."
A Sainsbury's spokeswoman said: "We offer our customers the choice of thousands of meal deal combinations, including low sugar, no sugar and no added sugar products."