Calorie reduction: industry and experts respond

Public Health England has launched a new campaign calling on businesses to slash 20% from the calorie content of certain foods by 2024.

Sandwiches, pizza, savoury biscuits, bread ‘with additions’ (such as ciabatta with olives), pies and pastries were among products cited by the organisation in a bid to tackle childhood and adult obesity.

Here, industry groups and health experts give their views on the plan.

Ian Wright, director general, Food and Drink Federation (FDF):

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

“FDF and its members take their responsibility in tackling obesity seriously. For the last decade, the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes. In fact, over the last five years, FDF members have reduced calorie content in the average basket by 5.5% [Kantar Worldpanel].

Jim Winship, director, British Sandwich Association and Pizza, Pasta & Italian Food Association:

“Our organisations are fully supportive of the need to tackle the obesity problems and we will be working with our members to respond positively to the proposals from PHE.”

Gordon Polson, director, Federation of Bakers:

“The products listed by PHE are not mainstream for FoB members. There are still many details to understand, but we can expect the reductions to be challenging and not straightforward for many businesses. We will therefore await the details for each category and work with PHE as we have done previously with salt and sugar reduction.”

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar:

"We applaud PHE’s plans to reformulate and cut excess calories consumption in what could be a ground-breaking campaign. However, in order for it to be successful, it is imperative that the 20% calorie reduction targets are properly enforced and transparent. We also need clear guidance from Government on what will happen if the food industry fails to comply, as it is vital that the industry is given a level-playing field and all companies, both retail and out-of-home fully co-operate.”

Sonia Saxena, professor of primary care, Imperial College London:

 “What could really make a difference is if the lower-calorie options are genuinely healthier, as appealing to families and equally affordable compared with foods available now. The plans to involve the whole food industry, including prepared food outlets, sound promising. Ultimately, families need strong messages to guide them towards making healthy choices about what they put into their kitchen cupboards and into their bodies.”

Prof Russell Viner, officer for health promotion, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:

 “A number of factors contribute to eating too many calories, in particular the creep in portion sizes we’ve seen over the last 40 years; our food portions, particularly pizzas and hamburgers, are simply much bigger than they were in our parents’ time. The availability of fast food at pocket-money prices and the advertising of unhealthy food and drink to children add to the problem, as does the lack of nutritional labelling, particularly on out-of-home products.

“For children and young people, it’s important that today’s measures are part of a wider package, including early education on the importance of a balanced diet, encouraging children and young people to exercise regularly and promote healthier food choices, preventing new fast food shops opening near schools, and placing a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed.”

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