Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Salt and sugars content of breakfast cereals in the UK from 1992 to 2015

  • Sonia Pombo-Rodrigues (a1), Kawther M Hashem (a1), Feng J He (a1) and Graham A MacGregor (a1)
Abstract Objective

To study the salt and sugars content of breakfast cereals sold in the UK between 1992 and 2015.


Cross-sectional surveys on salt and sugars content collected from the nutrition information panel of breakfast cereals in 1992, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015.


All major UK retailers operating at that moment in time (approximately ten).


The salt and sugars content was collected from product packaging and the nutrition information panels.


Cereals consistently surveyed across all five years (n22) showed a significant reduction in salt content of 47 % (P<0·001). Sugars content of breakfast cereals (n 15), however, did not show a significant change; 25·65 g/100 g in 1992 and 22·45 g/100 g in 2015 (P=0·170). There was a large variation in salt and sugars content between different categories and within the same type of category.


The study shows the progressive reduction in salt content of breakfast cereals in the UK since 2004 as a result of the successful salt reduction programme, particularly the setting of incremental salt targets. Further reductions in salt content need to be made as cereals remain a major contributor to salt intake. Sugars content, however, has been consistently high due to the lack of a sugar reduction strategy. The research demonstrates that the sugars content of breakfast cereals in the UK is of concern, particularly in children’s breakfast cereals, with a typical serving (30 g) containing a third of a 4–6-year-old’s maximum daily recommendation (19 g/d) for free sugars intake in the UK. More can and should be done to reformulate, with an urgent need to set incremental sugar reduction targets.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Email
Hide All

Joint first authors.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

1. SS Lim , T Vos , AD Flaxman et al. (2012) A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380, 22242260.

2. MH Forouzanfar , L Alexander , HR Anderson et al. (2015) Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet 386, 22872323.

3. FJ He & GA MacGregor (2010) Reducing population salt intake worldwide: from evidence to implementation. Prog Cardiovasc Dis 52, 363382.

4. FJ He & GA MacGregor (2011) Salt reduction lowers cardiovascular risk: meta-analysis of outcome trials. Lancet 378, 380382.

5. JL Webster , EK Dunford , C Hawkes et al. (2011) Salt reduction initiatives around the world. J Hypertens 29, 10431050.

6. R Beaglehole & R Bonita (2011) Priority actions for the non-communicable disease crisis. Lancet 378, 565566.

17. KC Maki & AK Phillips (2015) Dietary substitutions for refined carbohydrate that show promise for reducing risk of type 2 diabetes in men and women. J Nutr 145, issue 1, 159S163S.

18. RD Feinman , WK Pogozelski , A Astrup et al. (2015) Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: critical review and evidence base. Nutrition 31, 113.

19. L Te Morenga , S Mallard & J Mann (2013) Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ 346, e7492.

20. B Xi , SS Li , ZL Liu et al. (2014) Intake of fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One 9, e93471.

24. KL Rennie , SA Jebb , A Wright et al. (2005) Secular trends in under-reporting in young people. Br J Nutr 93, 241247.

25. JR Hebert , CB Ebbeling , CE Matthews et al. (2002) Systematic errors in middle-aged women’s estimates of energy intake: comparing three self-report measures to total energy expenditure from doubly labeled water. Ann Epidemiol 12, 577586.

26. JJ Lara , JA Scott & MEJ Lean (2004) Intentional mis-reporting of food consumption and its relationship with body mass index and psychological scores in women. J Hum Nutr Diet 17, 209218.

27. KL Rennie , A Coward & SA Jebb (2007) Estimating under-reporting of energy intake in dietary surveys using an individualised method. Br J Nutr 97, 11691176.

28. E Archer , GA Hand & SN Blair (2013) Validity of US nutritional surveillance: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey caloric energy intake data, 1971–2010. PLoS One 8, e76632.

30. NM Marrero , FJ He , P Whincup et al. (2014) Salt intake of children and adolescents in South London. Consumption levels and dietary sources. Hypertension 63, 10261032.

31. FJ He , HC Brinsden & GA MacGregor (2014) Salt reduction in the United Kingdom: a successful experiment in public health. J Hum Hypertension 28, 345352.

32. LA Wyness , JL Butriss & SA Stanner (2012) Reducing the population’s sodium intake: the UK Food Standards Agency’s salt reduction programme. Public Health Nutr 15, 254261.

33. HC Brinsden , FJ He , KH Jenner et al. (2013) Surveys of the salt content in UK bread: progress made and further reductions possible. BMJ Open 3, e002936.

35. FJ He , S Pombo-Rodrigues & GA MacGregor (2014) Salt reduction in England from 2003 to 2011: its relationship to blood pressure, stroke and ischaemic heart disease mortality. BMJ Open 4, e004549.

36. A De La Hunty & M Ashwell (2007) Are people who regularly eat breakfast cereals slimmer than those who don’t? A systematic review of the evidence. Nutr Bull 32, 118128.

37. H Szajewska & M Ruszczynski (2010) Systematic review demonstrating that breakfast consumption influences body weight outcomes in children and adolescents in Europe. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 50, 113119.

38. SA Gibson & P Gunn (2011) What’s for breakfast? Nutritional implications of breakfast habits: insights from the NDNS dietary records. Nutr Bull 36, 7886.

39. B McKevith & A Jarzebowska (2010) The role of breakfast cereals in the UK diet: headline results from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) year 1. Nutr Bull 35, 314319.

51. KM Hashem , FJ He , KH Jenner et al. (2014) Cross-sectional survey of salt content in cheese: a major contributor to salt intake in the UK. BMJ Open 4, e005051.

52. DG Liem , F Miremadi & RSJ Keast (2011) Reducing sodium in foods: the effect on flavor. Nutrients 3, 694711.

54. J Webster , K Trieu , E Dunford et al. (2014) Target salt 2025: a global overview of national programs to encourage the food industry to reduce salt in foods. Nutrients 6, 32743287.

55. K Hashem , S Pombo-Rodrigues & S Capewell (2015) Reducing sodium in the global food supply to reduce population burden of cardiovascular disease. Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep 9, 16.

56. JA Grieger & L Cobiac (2012) Comparison of dietary intakes according to breakfast choice in Australian boys. Eur J Clin Nutr 66, 667672.

58. R Goglia , M Spiteri , C Menard et al. (2010) Nutritional quality and labelling of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals: the contribution of the French observatory of food quality. Eur J Clin Nutr 64, Suppl. 3, S20S25.

61. N Hex , C Bartlett , D Wright et al. (2012) Estimating the current and future costs of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the UK, including direct health costs and indirect societal and productivity costs. Diabet Med 29, 855862.

64. JL Harris , MB Schwartz , A Ustjanauskas et al. (2011) Effects of serving high-sugar cereals on children’s breakfast-eating behavior. Pediatrics 127, 7176.

65. JA Mennella , MY Pepino & DR Reed (2005) Genetic and environmental determinants of bitter perception and sweet preferences. Pediatrics 115, e216e222.

66. JA Mennella (2014) Ontogeny of taste preferences: basic biology and implications for health. Am J Clin Nutr 99, issue 3, 704S711S.

67. PG Williams (2014) The benefits of breakfast cereal consumption: a systematic review of the evidence base. Adv Nutr 5, issue 5, 636S673S.

68. J Slavin (2004) Whole grains and human health. Nutr Res Rev 17, 99110.

72. G Sacchetti , P Pittia , M Biserni et al. (2003) Kinetic modelling of textural changes in ready-to-eat breakfast cereals during soaking in semi-skimmed milk. Int J Food Sci Technol 38, 135143.

73. N Enwere (2005) Effect of ripe fruit pulp on the sensory and nutritive quality of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal produced from maize and soybean flours and cassava starch blends. Int J Food Sci Nutr 56, 35.

74. CR Luckett & Y-J Wang (2012) Application of enzyme-treated corn starches in breakfast cereal coating. J Food Sci 77, C901C906.

76. CS Brennan (2005) Dietary fibre, glycaemic response, and diabetes. Mol Nutr Food Res 49, 560570.

77. MN Norfezah , A Hardacre & CS Brennan (2011) Comparison of waste pumpkin material and its potential use in extruded snack foods. Food Sci Technol Int 17, 367373.

78. Z Dehghan-Shoar , AK Hardacre & CS Brennan (2010) The physico-chemical characteristics of extruded snacks enriched with tomato lycopene. Food Chem 123, 11171122.

79. Z Dehghan-Shoar , T Mandimika , AK Hardacre et al. (2011) Lycopene bioaccessibility and starch digestibility for extruded snacks enriched with tomato derivatives. J Agric Food Chem 59, 1204712053.

80. MA Brennan , E Derbyshire , BK Tiwari et al. (2013) Ready-to-eat snack products: the role of extrusion technology in developing consumer acceptable and nutritious snacks. Int J Food Sci Technol 48, 893902.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
  • URL: /core/journals/public-health-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 59
Total number of PDF views: 318 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1831 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 7th February 2017 - 21st September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.