With a third of primary school children and two thirds of adults overweight or obese, obesity is an issue that’s population-wide. We’re also the most obese country in Western Europe. Measures like our reformulation programme are making it easier for everyone - no matter their age, socio-economic background, or where they live - to consume less sugar and fewer calories.
The food industry has a large influence over what - and how often - we eat and drink. It is in a unique position to help our children avoid obesity, which increases their risk of serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
We’ve seen leadership from some product categories included in the programme, and some sectors of industry, in contributing towards a 2% reduction in year one. Those rising to the challenge should be commended.
While this is below the 5% ambition, it’s a reasonable start. We know it takes time to get products through the reformulation cycle, and some changes weren’t reflected in this report.
The yoghurts and fromage frais, breakfast cereals and sweet spreads & sauces categories have all met or exceeded the initial 5% ambition, which shows businesses can take action and make a difference.
Our report highlights where some big players have demonstrated great leadership and innovation - but also where more progress is needed. In the case of puddings, where we saw an increase in both sugar and calories, further work is required.
We are at the start of a critical journey to make everyday foods and drinks healthier, and it’s too early for snap judgements about what may or may not be working.
When we publish our next progress report in spring 2019, we will be in a better position to say which sectors, categories and companies may need to step up. Meantime, our message is loud and clear: there is no time for complacency and we must keep working together.
In getting this report right, we came across some challenges, including limitations with data for the cakes and morning goods categories, and the out of home sector. Lack of out of home data should not be interpreted as PHE letting this sector off the hook. Our data suggests servings are on average double that of retailer and manufacturer branded products. Although some major players have committed to meeting the 20%, we need immediate action from this sector.
We have been asked if we’re disappointed in progress made, but a 2% reduction across a complex set of categories is a good start. These are products consumed regularly by children and families, and many are now lower in sugar and/or calories as a result. To achieve 2% in a short space of time reflects a change in attitudes and a growing acceptance that the public wants and expects healthier choices.
In years to come, we should all look back on this as a time where we took a step forward in improving our children’s health. Everyone - retailers, manufacturers and the out of home sector - needs to play their full part.
Dr Alison Tedstone is chief nutritionist at Public Health England