Food firms urged to act as calorie reduction target set

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Food in focus: burgers and potato products are listed among the target categories
Food in focus: burgers and potato products are listed among the target categories

Related tags Nutrition

Food manufacturers are being urged to start reformulating “everyday” products without delay after Public Health England (PHE) set a 20% calorie reduction target in food consumed across 13 product categories by 2024.

Offering healthy options as part of a wider product portfolio was no longer adequate, claimed PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone, in the wake of the Government health body today (6 March) unveiling its plan to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis through calorie reduction.

Instead, the nutritional value of “big-selling, regular” ​products needed to improve – and manufacturers should be looking at reformulation now, Tedstone argued.

“This is not about pledging. This is not the Responsibility Deal. The big players know we will be monitoring them against a 20% reduction in calories from their big-selling products,” ​she said.

“And everything we’ve said applies as much to the out-of-home sector as it does to Tesco.”

Key points

  • 20% calorie reduction by 2024
  • 13 product categories
  • Out-of-home sector also targeted
  • Progress report in 2019

In the PHE report, Calorie reduction: The scope and ambition for action​, industry has been challenged to reduce calories using three approaches: changing the recipe of products; reducing portion-size; and better marketing of lower-calorie products.

Government’s obesity plan

It followed on from the publishing of the Government’s obesity plan in August 2016, which aims to reduce childhood obesity levels within 10 years.

If the 20% target was met within five years, more than 35,000 premature deaths could be prevented and around £9bn in NHS healthcare and social care costs could be saved over a 25-year period, PHE claimed.

The categories of food covered by the latest programme include pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, processed meat products and savoury snacks.

Tedstone confirmed to Food Manufacture ​that PHE would publish a data-led progress report within 18 months, broken down by product, company and sector.

The report was “warmly welcomed”​ by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which has long advocated an overall calorie approach to tackling obesity, rather than a focus on individual nutrients.

“It’s encouraging too, to see that the Government’s renewed focus looks not just at the food and drink bought for consumption at home, but also at takeaways, restaurants and cafés,”​ said FDF director general Ian Wright.

“To be successful in improving the nation’s health, it is also vital that this work delivers appropriate, clear and easily understandable calorie messages for shoppers and consumers.”

Children’s daily calorie intake

The report also included new data on children’s daily calorie intake. Depending on their age, overweight and obese boys consumed between 140–500 calories too many a day, when compared with those with healthy body weights – while for girls it was between 160–290 calories a day. Meanwhile, adults consumed on average 200–300 calories too many a day.

It coincided with the launch of the Government’s OneYou campaign, which will encourage adults to consume 400 calories at breakfast, and 600 for lunch and dinner.

“Major high-street brands are partnering with PHE on the campaign, signposting to meals that meet the 400-600-600 tip. Total daily calorie intake recommendations remain at 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men,”​ said PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.

“There will be food options in each of these outlets. What people then choose to do is, of course, a matter for them – it’s not an exclusion policy.”

In a separate development, Tedstone told Food Manufacture ​that the first set of data as part of PHE’s 20% sugar reduction target by 2020 would be published in April. The report will name the top 20 companies that use sugar in their products, and their reformulation progress.

Categories targeted

  • Savoury biscuits and crackers
  • Bread with additions (eg ciabatta with olives)
  • Cooking sauces, table sauces and dressings
  • Crisps and savoury snacks
  • Egg products
  • Potato products (eg chips, prepared mash)
  • Meat products and processed meats, poultry, fish, meat alternatives (eg pies, pastries, sausages, burgers)
  • Pasta, rice and noodles, including flavoured and filled varieties
  • Ready meals and meal centres, including takeaways
  • Dips and composite salads (eg hoummus, coleslaw)
  • Pizza
  • Soups

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