Public Health England’s looming clampdown on calories will dwarf its action on sugar, according to the woman charged with setting new industry reformulation targets.
PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone this week told The Grocer the proposals being lined up to take calories out of products such as ready meals, burgers and crisps, would test how far the public would go to prioritise healthy diets.
Tedstone suggested PHE would be looking for a double-digit reduction in calories across thousands of SKUs, with products like pizza having to shrink, following the example of chocolate bars and other sugar-laden products.
The PHE boss was speaking during its annual conference as it published a progress report on its sugar reduction programme, launched with the industry last October.
Tedstone said: “The work we have done on sugar has tackled foods responsible for about 25% of the calories people eat. We are now looking to move on to those responsible for the lion’s share, like ready meals, sandwiches and snacks.
“It is going to be a test because in the crackdown on sugar we had three years of huge noise, whereas there hasn’t been that build-up with calories. It has been products that are high in sugar where we have seen things like portion reduction. I don’t see portion reduction happening in pizzas.”
PHE has already given 10 food categories a target of slashing sugar by 20% by 2020, and next spring will produce a report on calories, which will be used to set a new target across the other 75% of products on its hit list.
Tedstone said: “We haven’t decided yet what the figure will be. It doesn’t follow that it will be 20% like sugar, but we’re not going to set a ridiculously low target. It can’t be 5%.”
As well as reformulation, Tedstone said portion size reduction would be a key weapon suggested to industry in the calories fight, although she admitted PHE was as yet unsure “how much permission” it had from the public to extend the war on sugar more widely to tackle calorie intake.
“I hope that people will realise we are already paying for the size of the pizzas we eat in the taxation we pay for dealing with obesity in the NHS. What you eat today, your taxes pay for tomorrow.”