family meal

The government’s flagship calories reduction programme has achieved “limited progress”, a bombshell report by health experts has found. Many sectors, including family meals and the out-of-home sector, have instead showed big increases in the amount of calories in food.

The report from the calorie reduction programme, published today by the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities (OHID), found the vast majority of product categories had failed to get anywhere near their reduction targets from 2018 to 2024.

That is despite Public Health England, and its successor the OHID, substantially reducing the scope of the required reductions after the original targets were found to be “unachievable”.

The programme’s scaled-back targets set 10% calorie reductions for retailers and manufacturers for categories including ready meals, breaded and battered food, family meals, chips and potatoes and a 5% reduction target for crisps.

Today’s results, based largely on data from Kantar’s Worldpanel of 30,000 households, found the biggest decrease in the sales weighted average total calorie content per 100g of any product was only 2.4%, in the case of cheesy garlic bread.

All other products saw changes of 2% or less, with family meals seeing calories increase by more than 10%.

The out-of-home sector, meanwhile, saw increases in the number of calories per serving in main meals, starters, side dishes and sandwiches.

Today the OHID said it was extending the deadline for the final report on the programme, which had been due at the end of this year, until the end of 2025.

The report said: “It should be noted that the time period for the data (52-week period ending 5 September 2021) covered the Covid-19 pandemic where schools, workplaces and businesses within the eating out of home sector were closed or there was limited access.

“This resulted in disruption of the food system with more food being purchased for consumption in the home and helps to explain the increase in sales seen in retailers and manufacturer branded products.”

The report concluded: “The results show that generally limited progress has been achieved in working towards the ambitions and guidelines set for the calorie reduction workstream.

“In addition, total volume and calorie sales increased in a number of food categories in the retailer and manufacturing sector.”

The lack of progress on calories reduction programme follows PHE’s much criticised sugar reduction programme, which also failed spectacularly to hit its reduction targets.

Food and drink industry leaders have accused PHE and then OHID of bombarding the sector with unachievable targets, while it has faced huge economic challenges from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, as well as the war in Ukraine.

Today’s findings will pile more pressure on the OHID after a report last week in the Health Service Journal found it had been “effectively dismantled” by cutbacks to staffing in the department.

The cuts were heavily criticised by among others former Tory health minister Lord Bethell.