obesity fat bench unhealthy

So fat is not our friend after all – at least as far as the government’s health experts are concerned.

After almost three years of chewing on all the available evidence, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has recommended the government should stick with advice dating back to 1994, long before the days of diets suggesting fat could be good.

Its advice suggests nobody over five years old should be consuming more than 10% of their daily energy intake through saturated fat.

SACN said the evidence it had studied in its long-awaited and much-delayed review “supported and strengthened” the view that consuming too much satfat was leading to higher levels of cholesterol and heart disease.

However, if SACN or PHE – which will make final recommendations based on the result of the subsequent consultation on the report – thought this news would slip under the radar, they had bargained without the intervention of some of the most prominent health campaigners, who are savage in their criticism of the UK’s advice on fat intake.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, a London-based cardiologist and member of the Academy of Royal Colleges obesity working group, told The Grocer today the findings were “ridiculous”. He accused the committee of “incompetence”.

He was not alone in his criticism. Another prominent campaigner calling for a change in the way the UK considers fat in the diet, Dr Zoe Harcombe, tweeted afterwards: ‘In March 2017 I submitted evidence on saturated fat to a ‘Scientific’ Advisory Committee on Nutrition. They either didn’t understand it, or they ignored it!’

PHE can expect a flood of further complaints from those who believe its thinking is out of touch and have been calling for the government to re-think its Eatwell Plate guidance. This recommends a diet heavy on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates – exactly the sort of food the likes of Malhotra claim is fuelling the obesity epidemic.

That is not to suggest PHE does not have its supporters on the medical front. On the other side of the camp, more than 20 NGOs in 2016 released a joint statement in support of PHE’s controversial plate.

So what happens next? Aside from some heated scientific (and not very scientific) debates on Twitter, the advice will have huge implications for the industry. PHE intends to use the recommendations to launch another phase of its voluntary reformulation programme, following the programme on sugar launched last year (also precipitated by SACN advice) and the looming crackdown on calories.

Suppliers may have found it impossible to make a stand against the tide of medical advice on sugar, but with saturated fats there is more division among experts. There will be some much harder conversations along the road before companies agree to go en masse to the reformulation lab.