eating pizza

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The analysis proposes the food industry follows a gradual reduction in the fat content of 46 food categories

A study has claimed new targets to reduce fat in food, plans for which have been shelved in the UK, could prevent 4.5 million people becoming overweight or obese.

Research by the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, says a fat reduction model would be an effective strategy to reduce excessive calories in manufactured and out-of-home food.

The analysis proposes the food industry follows a gradual reduction in the fat content of 46 food categories, including pizza, burgers, biscuits, ice cream, sauces and cakes which, together, account for 40% of the calorie intake in the UK population.

Using national food consumption data for the UK population, the authors modelled a 20% reduction in fat content in the selected food categories over five years, with an annual reduction of 4%.

The move comes with the government plans over fat unclear, following the decision to wind up Public Health England and no clarity yet over what will happen to its public health role.

PHE had planned to bring in targets for fat reduction on top of targets for sugar, calories and salt but there is doubt over what will happen to the porgramme amid the shake-up of the Department of Health planned by the government.

“This is an effective, feasible and acceptable strategy to meet the government’s task of improving population health,” said lead author Roberta Alessandrini, doctoral researcher at Queen Mary University of London. “Our strategy could be used in combination with an energy density levy, focusing on the retail and the out-of-home sector, as evidence shows these measures can ensure greater compliance and create a level playing field for the industry.”

Action on Sugar called on the government to set mandatory targets and impose levies on food manufacturers who fail to comply with them.

Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead for Action on Sugar, said: “The UK soft drinks industry levy has been remarkable and unique in encouraging reformulation and has already resulted in a much bigger reduction of sugar content in drinks in the UK than originally anticipated, as well as ringfencing £340m of income directly from manufacturers – not the public – to spend on improving children’s health.”