Industry targeted by major moves from Public Health England to cut obesity

Confectionery and snack companies are among industry sectors being targeted by Public Health England’s (PHE) latest drive to cut concerning levels of childhood obesity in the UK.

Its central aim has set a target of a 20% reduction in families’ calorie intake by 2024 – which comes on top of parallel initiative announced last year calling for a sugar reduction by the same amount by 2020 as part of a government initiative.

The move comes in the wake of latest figures that have shown that the NHS presently spends around £6 billion a year treating obesity-related conditions in the UK.

From PHE’s calculations, if the 20% target is met within five years, more than 35,000 premature deaths could be prevented and around £9 billion in healthcare and social care costs could be saved over a period of 25 years.

According to the government body, its latest programme comes as new evidence has highlighted overweight or obese boys and girls consume up to 500 and 290 calories too many each day respectively. In response the PHE has launched its latest One You campaign, encouraging adults to consume 400 calories at breakfast, and 600 for lunch and dinner; which comes as adults consume 200 to 300 calories in excess each day. PHE said it was concerned that too many children and most adults are overweight or obese, suffering consequences from bullying and low self-esteem in childhood, to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers as adults, with obese parents reportedly more likely to have an obese child.

As with the sugar reduction programme, PHE said industry has three ways to reduce calories, which include changing the recipe of products reducing portion size, and encouraging consumers to purchase lower calorie product.

Categories of food covered by the programme include pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, meat products and savoury snacks. However, while a number of companies within the confectionery are presently researching product reformulation, analysts have acknowledged a major challenge in altering products to maintain a similar flavour profile to existing ranges. Nestle is among those who have placed research and development into creating new lines of confectionery promising significant levels of sugar reduction – which the company had scheduled for release during 2018.

The report from PHE also includes new data on children’s daily calorie consumption. Depending on their age, overweight and obese boys consume between 140 to 500 calories too many each day and for girls, it is 160 to 290 when compared to those with healthy body weights. Adults consume on average 200 to 300 calories too many each day.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: “The simple truth is on average we need to eat less. Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and it’s why so many are overweight or obese.

“Industry can help families by finding innovative ways to lower the calories in the food we all enjoy and promoting UK business leadership on the world stage in tackling obesity.

“The latest One You campaign aims to support people to be more calorie-aware when they are out and about with its simple tip 400-600-600. Aim for 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.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, believed there was an urgent requirement for its latest campaign.She added: “It’s hard for people to make healthy food choices, whether for themselves or their families. That’s why we are challenging the food industry to take 20% of the calories out of everyday foods, building on their good work on salt and promising announcements on sugar.

“We are also working through our campaign and its partners, to give the public the information they need to help make those choices easier.

“The 20% reduction target is the result of analysis of the new calorie consumption data, experience of sugar and salt reduction programmes, and more than 20 meetings with the food industry and stakeholders.”

PHE said it is to engage with the whole food industry such as retailers, manufacturers, major restaurant, café, takeaway, and delivery companies, and health and charity sectors, to develop category guidelines to be published next summer.

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