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Sugar reduction and hypo treatments: Frequently Asked Questions

While we support sugar reduction as an important measure to reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes, we are very aware that people living with diabetes may rely on a sugary food or drink to manage their hypos.

Here we talk about some of the key concerns and advice we give to people using sugary soft drinks and foods to treat their hypos.

Why is the government focusing on reducing sugar in our food and drinks?

On average, we’re all eating too much sugar. This can lead to weight gain and in turn increase our risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. That’s why the government has announced two main measures to reduce the sugar content in our food and drinks. 

  1. The first is the Sugary Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) sometimes called the sugar tax. This levy will charge soft drink manufacturers for producing soft drinks that are high in added sugar. The aim of this is to encourage the soft drink industry to change their recipes to reduce the sugar content in their drinks. It will come into force in April 2018. 
  2. The second is the sugar reduction programme, run by Public Health England. Its aim is to reduce the amount of sugar in foods by 20% by 2020. This focuses on the food products most commonly eaten by children, so things like sweets, chocolate, yoghurt and biscuits to name just a few. The work on this is underway. 

Do we support the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (sugar tax) and the sugar reduction programme?

Yes, we do. We need to reduce the nation’s weight as a way to reduce the numbers of people with type 2 diabetes, and to help people manage their diabetes better. And to do this, we need to reduce the amount of sugar we're all eating.

But we’re aware that these measures have caused concern for people who may use sugary food and drinks to treat hypos, as it will lead to a change in the carbohydrate and sugar content of many commonly used products. 

Will the sugar content of my hypo treatment change and how will I know if it has?

The honest answer is that some will, some won’t. As both the levy and the sugar reduction programme allow the food industry to decide what to do next, some are planning to reduce the sugar content, some are already doing it and some will choose to make no changes to their recipes. So it won't always be clear if and when companies have reduced the sugar content of their food or drinks, and they may not publicise any changes.

It's also likely that when a company does change the sugar content, there may be a time when both old and new recipes of the same product are on sale at the same time, as the old recipe sells out.

This means it's vital that if you use a sugary drink or food to treat a hypo that you regularly check the label of the product you use, to make sure you consume enough to treat a hypo. 

You may also want to have a conversation with your diabetes team about the different options and best treatments for a hypo, to ensure that you're having the appropriate amount of carbohydrate. If you or someone you are caring for is having hypos regularly, we recommend you speak to the diabetes team, so that they can review the best treatment and management options. 

We have lots of information about treating hypos:

I often use sugary drinks and I'm aware many of them are changing, what does this mean for treating hypos? 

Many sugary drinks will have reduced the amount of sugar in their products and we know that some people may choose to use them as a hypo treatment. 

For example, new Lucozade products now contain approximately 50% fewer glucose-based carbohydrates than before, which means you are likely to need to drink more to use this product to treat a hypo. 

We know that people use lots of different products to treat their hypos. It is likely that the sugar content of these will change over time as well, so it’s important to check the label of your hypo treatment of choice regularly.

Will the levy make my hypo treatment of choice more expensive?

We don’t know yet. This all depends on how individual soft drinks companies respond to the levy. Some will reduce the amount of sugar in their products in order to avoid the added charge. Others may choose to keep their products the same and keep their prices the same. Or some may choose not to reduce the sugar content and charge shoppers more.

We won’t know the full impact until late in 2018. We'll be keeping a close eye on this, as will the government. 

It’s worth remembering that some hypo treatments are available for free through the NHS. And these products may increase in price for reasons other than the sugar content. 

What other products can I use to treat hypos?

Adults should treat a hypo immediately with 15 to 20g of fast-acting carbohydrate – as long it contains this amount, then it will be suitable.

There are many options for treating a hypo. Examples include sugary non-diet drinks, glucose tablets, sweets such as jelly babies, pure fruit juice or glucose gels. Some treatments (glucose gels and tablets) can be prescribed for free for people with diabetes at risk of hypos.

The choice of hypo treatment is very individual – it will depend on a number of things such as what works best for you, taste preference and how easy it is to store and carry.

We've got more advice on choosing a hypo treatment, or speak to your healthcare team for more advice. 

I'm a healthcare professional and use sugary drinks as part of an oral glucose tolerance test to diagnose diabetes, should I change the products I'm using?

Potentially, yes. As explained above, the choice of whether to reduce the sugar content in products is down to the companies themselves. This will mean different companies will respond in different ways and at difference speeds. They may not always publicise when they've reduced the sugar content either. So it's really important that you check the product before using in a clinical setting, to ensure you are using enough. Alternatively, you could use a suitable prescribed product.

We have more information for healthcare professionals on sugar reformulation and your clinical practice.

And for more information or advice, contact our helpline.

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