Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges facing the country. More than a third of children in England are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, and this is likely to follow them into adulthood – increasing their risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
This is a shocking statistic, but it explains why our reduction and reformulation work is so important. Adults are consuming an extra 200–300 calories a day on average, and for some overweight and obese children this can rise to as much as 500. That’s equivalent to an entire meal.
This is why we’re challenging the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar and calories in their products and improve the nation’s health.
Some businesses in all sectors of the food industry have already shown leadership and commitment to act. The encouraging work we’ve seen so far, and the innovation shown by some companies, shows that reducing sugar, salt, and calories is possible. But most businesses need to do more.
It’s good for business
Making the everyday products we rely on healthier isn’t just good for our health – it’s good for business. Our survey published last year shows that there is consumer demand for healthier products, with around nine in 10 people supporting the work we are doing with all parts of industry to make food healthier.
We know it can take time for reformulated or innovative new products to be developed, tested and implemented, and that it can be difficult to manage this alongside the wider challenges facing the industry.
But UK manufacturers and retailers have already shown they are capable of innovation and creativity and are overcoming these challenges to meet consumer appetite. It will come as no surprise that industry already does this constantly as it shapes our tastes, preferences and choices.
We saw an encouraging start in the first sugar reduction progress report last year from manufacturers and retailers. In the out of home sector, some businesses have shown good leadership, including those signing up to a sector-led voluntary code of practice on reduction and reformulation.
The second report on the industry’ sugar reduction progress is expected at the end of the summer. Analysis of the available data is significant and complex.
A ‘mixed response’ from out of home
Ahead of this update, there is still much more work to be done – the commitment from out of home businesses to act is not widespread and recent engagement has resulted in a mixed response.
That’s why more of these businesses must act, to drive a level playing field in the food and drink available to consumers. It is overdue for businesses with a significant presence in the out of home market to take their share of responsibility in tackling childhood obesity.
We are not taking this lightly. As part of the ongoing commitment to improve out of home action, we are continuing to engage with this sector through a phased approach, to encourage a wide range of businesses to play their part.
Last year, our engagement focused on quick service and casual dining restaurants, and the next phase will focus on travel and leisure businesses and what they can do.
With the health of our children at stake, there is no time for complacency. It’s time for manufacturers, retailers and the out of home sector to play their full part in improving our diets and our health.