This week, the food industry was challenged to reduce calories in popular products by 20% by 2024. This builds on the salt reduction of a decade ago, and the more recent sugar reduction programme.
Amid the scrutiny of the food reformulation programmes, we must not forget why we’re doing this. A third of children leaving primary school, and two-thirds of adults, are overweight or obese. The individual toll includes bullying and low self-esteem for children and type 2 diabetes and cancer for adults.
But we all pay a price. The NHS spends billions every year treating obesity. The social care budget is increasingly used for managing obesity-related conditions. Economic productivity is down tens of billions by sick leave, a major factor of which is obesity-related conditions.
Now we’ve announced the 20% target on calories, we’ll continue to meet with industry and stakeholders, analyse sales data and produce category guidelines next year.
As numerous forward-thinking companies - including Nestlé, General Mills, Yoplait and Waitrose - did when we launched the sugar reduction programme, industry can start to reduce calories now. There’s no need to wait for the guidelines.
It’s more important than ever that the out of home sector cuts calories. A quarter of calories come from out of the home, half of which come from major businesses.
Some have already taken positive steps in making consumers more calorie-aware. Wetherspoon highlights calories on its menu. Starbucks, Greggs, Subway and McDonald’s have commendably joined our One You campaign, signposting consumers to healthier meals. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough.
The industry can add considerably to their health credentials by reducing the calories in their biggest selling products, including burgers, flavoured coffees, pizzas, pasties and sandwiches etc.
Now’s the time to build on the momentum and make greater strides in reducing the nation’s waistline, and increasing its wellbeing and productivity.
Dr Alison Tedstone is chief nutritionist at Public Health England