Glaxo Cuts Sugar in Lucozade and Ribena in U.K. in Obesity Fight

GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK), the maker of Lucozade Energy and Ribena drinks, said it will cut the calories and sugar in the beverages in the U.K. as part of a government plan to fight obesity.

Glaxo will reduce the calories in the drinks by as much as 10 percent by 2014, equivalent to removing 1,433 metric tons of sugar and 5.6 billion calories, the London-based company said in a statement today. The cuts don’t apply to other drinks in the Lucozade range and only apply in the U.K. and Ireland, the company said.

Glaxo joins companies including Coca-Cola Co. (KO), Nestle SA (NESN) and Tesco Plc (TSCO) in signing up to a British government pledge to reduce calories in their products, the U.K. health department said in a separate statement today. About 60 percent of adults and one third of children ages 10 and 11 are overweight or obese, the department said.

“We have a responsibility to help people make healthier choices,” Glaxo said in its statement. “We also have a duty to promote our products responsibly and will continue to ensure our advertising, sponsorships and messaging encourage healthier behaviors and are appropriate for their intended audiences.”

A 500 milliliter (16.9 fl oz) bottle of ready-to-drink Ribena contains 216 calories, and a 380 milliliter bottle of Lucozade Energy contains 266 calories, Caroline Bishop, a Glaxo spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. An average man needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight and an average woman needs about 2,000 calories, according to the U.K. National Health Service.

Sales of nutritional products, which include Lucozade, Ribena and Horlicks, expanded 7 percent to 815 million pounds ($1.29 billion) in the first three quarters of last year, Glaxo said on Oct. 31.

Diabetes, Obesity

The reductions come as the World Health Organization considers a draft action plan that calls on nations to cut sugar in food and drink in an effort to halt the global rise in diabetes and obesity. The proposals are part of a WHO target to reduce deaths from so-called non-communicable diseases by 25 percent by 2020.

Increasing or decreasing intake of sugar is associated with changes in body weight, according to a review of evidence commissioned by the Geneva-based WHO and published last week in the British Medical Journal.

Increased consumption of so-called free sugars, including additives to foods and those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices, led to an average gain of 800 grams (1.8 pounds) in body weight in adults, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found in a review of 71 studies. Limiting the analysis to studies lasting longer than eight weeks, weight gain was 2.7 kilograms, they said.

Obesity Epidemic

The WHO commissioned the review in preparation for updating its 2003 recommendation that free sugar be limited to less than 10 percent of energy intake. The study adds to a debate over public policy aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic and related diseases, including New York City’s decision to restrict sales of large-sized sugary soft drinks.

In September, New York City’s Board of Health approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to restrict sales of those soft drinks to no more than 16 ounces (450 grams) a cup. They rejected arguments from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) and restaurant companies whose coalition said consumers should be free to choose. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Geneva at sbennett9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net

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