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New voluntary calorie guidelines to help industry tackle obesity

Article Date: 2020-09-08

Food industry encouraged to help people move towards and maintain a healthier weight by reducing excessive calories in everyday foods by up to 20% by 2024.

The government is encouraging the food industry to support the national effort against COVID-19 and obesity, with voluntary calorie reduction guidelines to make it easier for the nation to choose healthier options in everyday meals and foods.

Voluntary guidelines for industry are a key commitment of the government’s obesity strategy and have a renewed urgency following evidence that being overweight can increase the health risks from COVID-19. A recent Public Health England (PHE) report found that being severely overweight increases people’s risk of hospitalisation, Intensive Care Unit admission and death from COVID-19.

High calories in many products in a broad range of everyday meals and foods are one of the reasons why many of us are consuming more calories than we need.

Calories can be particularly high in takeaway and restaurant food, now a regular part of our diets. For example, a pizza for one sold at a restaurant or takeaway can have as many as 2,320 calories compared to 1,368 calories when purchased from shops or supermarkets. Research suggests that when someone eats out or has a takeaway meal they consume on average 200 more calories per day.

The food industry’s efforts are crucial to providing healthier food and drink choices for consumers, and calorie reduction forms part of this. It is recommended that the following calorie reductions be made voluntarily:

  • 20% calorie reduction for most meal categories in the eating out of home, takeaway and delivery sector, alongside a maximum calorie guideline for all categories
  • for children’s meal bundles, a 10% calorie reduction ambition has been set to reflect progress already made
  • 10% calorie reduction ambition for retailers making ready meals, chips and garlic bread, alongside a maximum calorie guideline for all categories
  • for crisps and savoury snacks, a 5% ambition
  • combined guidelines for both sectors have been set for sandwiches (5% ambition) and pizza and pastry products (20% ambition)

New voluntary salt reduction goals have also been published today to encourage businesses to further reduce salt levels in the foods that contribute most to salt intakes.

Consuming too much salt is a major cause of high blood pressure which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Despite good progress in some categories, more needs to be done to help reduce salt intake from the current average of 8.4g per day towards the recommended 6g – a reduction of around a third of a teaspoon, which would help to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

A second progress report on salt reduction, which shows good progress in some categories, such as bread and breakfast cereals, has also been published.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “We can all do our bit to stay healthy, to help protect us from coronavirus and take pressure off the NHS.

“The food industry can play their part, by making it as easy as possible for everyone to eat more healthily. These guidelines will help them take positive action.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist for PHE, said: “Eating food and drink that’s higher in calories than people realise is one of the reasons why many of us are either overweight or obese.

“This is about broadening choice for consumers, as well as making the healthier choice the easy choice. Progress to date on sugar and salt reduction has shown that this can happen without compromising on taste and quality.”

A range of measures were recently announced as part of the government’s new obesity strategy, including calorie labelling at large restaurants, cafes and takeaways, and PHE’s Better Health campaign to encourage people to lose weight, get active and eat better.

Industry’s progress against the programme’s ambitions will be monitored with reports on calorie and salt reduction expected in 2022. The government remains committed to further action if results are not seen.

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