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Public Health England call for a 20% calorie reduction in popular foods


Public Health England are calling on food manufacturers and sellers to cut the calorie content of their products by 20% by 2024. Officials have claimed that the target will slash costs to the NHS by £4.5bn over 25 years, and costs to social care by £4.48bn.

The initiative is targeted at big businesses, including restaurants, fast food outlets, supermarkets and manufacturers, and outlines 13 food categories which PHE have declared will require a reduction in calories.

The foods specified are:

• savoury biscuits and crackers
• speciality breads, such as ciabatta with olives
• cooking sauces and dressings
• crisps and savoury snacks
• egg products
• potato products
• meat products, such as pies, pastries, sausages and burgers
• pasta, rice and noodles
• ready meals and takeaways
• dips
• pizza
• food-to-go, such as sandwiches
• soups

Public Health England have stated that the initiative will help combat childhood obesity as well as adult obesity, as research shows that currently, 1 in 3 children leaving primary school are overweight, and 60% of the adult population are overweight. The report states that overweight and obese boys are on average, consuming 500 extra calories a day, and overweight and obese girls are consuming nearly 300 extra calories per day. Overweight adults are said to consume 200 extra calories per day on average.

“It is not an attack on overweight folk,” explained the chief executive of PHE, Duncan Selbie. But he also said, “Britain needs to go on a diet.”

The scheme has been met with huge dissent since PHE’s statement this morning, 6th March. Criticised for being too vague, the guidelines proposed by PHE to reduce the calorie content of foods are:

• change the recipe of products
• reduce portion size
• encourage consumers to purchase lower calorie products

An article in Spectator by Christopher Snowdon asks the obvious questions: “How does one remove 20 per cent of the calories from ‘fish’, for example? Or from a bottle of cooking oil? Or from rice? Or, for that matter, from pretty much any of the items on the list?”

Snowdon also argues that in stating ‘encourage consumers to purchase lower calorie items’ as a method of reducing obesity, the campaigners, “give advertising far more credit than it deserves. It cannot change people’s fundamental desires,” for the types of foods deemed unhealthy by PHE.

Public comments on the scheme remark on the questionable 'benefits' reduced-calorie options have for consumers.

On The Guardian’s article, Helen Wilson commented, “I don't see the point in cutting 20% [of calories] off a 25g pack of crisps, you will just push the consumer towards purchasing the larger sized grab or share packs that could be between 50g to 150g, so it's a counterproductive act.”

RosieBgs commented, “I'm responsible. I eat junk food in extreme moderation and exercise. I have a healthy BMI and am very fit. Why is my food being meddled with because of the irresponsible?”

Alasmall commented, “Perhaps people will just buy two [food items] to fill the gap which means instead of having 80% of the original size, they will now have 160%. This isn’t addressing the problem, it’s not really doing anything but making food more expensive.”

What do you think?

It is crucial that PHE work to address obesity in adults and children in England, and it is clearly a topic that rises much debate, but is this scheme the best way to go about it?

Join the conversation: Tweet us @NCASS_UK

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