A team of health experts from around the world are calling on food and drink manufacturers to cut the amount of sugar in their products -- part of a new anti-sugar campaign that calls the sweet stuff “the new tobacco.”

The group 'Action on Sugar' says sugar is behind an unprecedented obesity and diabetes epidemic. As a result, the U.K.-based group is carrying out the new public health campaign that aims to make the public more aware of the sugar found in their food and drink, urging us to avoid products that have high amounts of “hidden” sugars.

Other goals include:

  • Limiting the amount of added sugar intake in the U.K. to no more than five per cent of total energy intake;
  • Persuading food manufacturers to gradually reduce the added sugar in their products by 20 to 30 per cent over a three- to five-year period; and
  • Conducting a campaign that urges the government to impose a "sugar tax" on companies that don't comply with these targets.

Action on Sugar is modelled along the same lines of a previous campaign that aimed at reducing salt consumption in the U.K. That group, Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), set targets for the food industry to add less salt to their products.

They say salt intake in the U.K. dropped 15 per cent between 2001 and 2011, and most products in grocery stores saw a 20 to 40 per cent decrease in salt, which CASH says correlates to a reduction of at least 6,000 stroke and heart attack deaths yearly.

Action on Sugar says a 20- to 30-per-cent reduction of added sugar would amount to about 100 less calories per day for the average person.

"This reduction in calorie intake is predicted to reverse or halt the obesity epidemic and will also have a significant impact in reducing the burden of chronic disease," the group writes on its website

Toronto-based nutritionist Theresa Albert says it's important for the public to understand the dangers of high-sugar intake, as a calorie from processed sugar is different from a calorie from fresh, whole foods.

"The push really that (food processors) need to admit that a calorie is not just a calorie, that a sugar calorie is processed differently," Albert told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

"The processing of a white sugar is actually more damaging to the body than just a calorie burned."

Albert pointed out, however, that it's not just up to food manufacturers and governments to reduce sugar intake.

"It really is up to us not to buy the products that aren't good for us in the end," she said.