A new study by health campaigners has found wide variation in sugar and calorie content in the same styles of cakes and biscuits. This, they claimed, showed how it was possible for bakers to reformulate products.

The Action on Sugar research, published in BMJ Open, examined the sugar and energy content from the labels of 381 cakes and 481 biscuit products in the UK.

It found that the amount of sugar in Victoria sponge or similar cakes ranged from 23.4g per 100g to 59.2g per 100g.

And, looking at the sugar content in a ‘serving’ of Victoria sponge, the study showed the amount of sugar in a slice varied from 11.9g to 34.3g – a difference of six teaspoons.

Battenberg was found to contain the highest amount of sugar at 56.4g/100g, followed by Genoa (45.9g/100g) and red velvet cakes (44.2g/100g), while blueberry muffins contained the lowest levels at 24.6g/100g.

Branded cakes had a slightly higher sugar content per 100g compared with supermarket own-label cakes (37.7g vs 36.3g).

The study said the variation in sugar levels suggested reductions in the sugar and energy content of cakes and biscuits were possible.

Recommendations included “reducing sugar, replacing icing and buttercream with low-fat yoghurt in frosting and fillings, making cakes with fruit and vegetables (eg carrot and beetroot) and biscuits with dried fruits”.

The study also called for a reduction in large portion sizes, and encouraged use of packaging formats that lent themselves to portion control.

“Owing to the huge volume of standard popular cakes and biscuits consumed, even small reductions could have a significant impact on sugar and energy intake of the entire population,” the study stated.

Study co-author Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said: “Large amounts of cakes and biscuits are consumed in the UK, so a reduction in the amount of sugar and calorie content could play an important role in helping prevent obesity and tooth decay.”

The report comes as the proportion of 10- to 11-year-old children who are severely obese has reached a record high with just over 4% of Year 6 children now severely obese, up from 3.2% 10 years ago.

And last month a Public Health England report revealed that cakes, biscuits and other baked goods accounted for almost a quarter of children’s sugar intake.