Cross-sectional survey of the amount of free sugars and calories in carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages on sale in the UK

BMJ Open. 2016 Nov 15;6(11):e010874. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010874.


Objectives: To investigate the free sugars and calorie content of carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages (CSSB) available in the main UK supermarkets.

Study design: We carried out a cross-sectional survey in 2014 of 169 CSSB.

Methods: The free sugars (sugars g/100 mL) and calorie (kcal/100 mL) were collected from product packaging and nutrient information panels of CSSB available in 9 main UK supermarkets.

Results: The average free sugars content in CSSB was 30.1±10.7 g/330 mL, and 91% of CSSB would receive a 'red' (high) label for sugars per serving. There was a large variation in sugars content between different flavours of CSSB and within the same type of flavour ranging from 3.3 to 52.8 g/330 mL. On average, ginger beer (38.5±9.9 g/330 mL) contained the highest amounts of sugars and ginger ale (22.9±7.7 g/330 mL) contained the lowest. Cola flavour is the most popular flavour in the UK with an average free sugars content of 35.0±1.1 g/330 mL. On average, the supermarket own brand contained lower levels of sugars than branded products (27.9±10.6 vs 31.6±10.6 g/330 mL, p=0.02). The average calorie content in CSSB was 126.1±43.5 kcal/330 mL. Cola flavour had a calorie content of 143.5±5.2 kcal/330 mL. Among the 169 products surveyed, 55% exceeded the maximum daily recommendation for free sugars intake (30 g) per 330 mL.

Conclusions: Free sugars content of CSSB in the UK is high and is a major contributor to free sugars intake. There is a wide variation in the sugars content of CSSB and even within the same flavour of CSSB. These findings demonstrate that the amount of free sugars added to CSSB can be reduced without technical issues, and there is an urgent need to set incremental free sugars reduction targets. A reduction in sugars content and overall CSSB consumption will be very beneficial in reducing obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental caries.

Keywords: free sugars; reformulation; soft drinks; sugars.

MeSH terms

  • Carbonated Beverages / analysis*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dietary Sucrose / analysis*
  • Dietary Sugars / analysis*
  • Food Labeling*
  • Sweetening Agents / analysis*
  • United Kingdom


  • Dietary Sucrose
  • Dietary Sugars
  • Sweetening Agents