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Cutting calories

Cutting calories

Public Health England (PHE) was commissioned by government in August 2017 to consider the evidence around children’s calorie consumption and to set the ambition, scope and timeline for extending the reformulation programme, set up in 2016[3], to cover the foods that contribute significantly to children’s calorie intakes. In March 2018, PHE published a report of its findings entitled ‘Calorie reduction: The scope and ambition for action’[4].

The report concludes that there is a clear case for taking further action to reduce people’s daily consumption of calories. At a population level, children and adults are consuming excess calories on a daily basis. The report demonstrates that the benefits of reducing this excess consumption, both in terms of preventing premature deaths and saving NHS healthcare costs and social care costs, are substantial. A 20% reduction in calories from everyday foods that contribute to intakes, if achieved over 5 years, would prevent 35,370 premature deaths, save the NHS £4.5bn healthcare costs and save social care costs of around £4.48bn, over a 25 year period.

According to the report, the salt reformulation programme has significantly reduced levels of salt in foods and consumption of salt by individuals; businesses have also begun to take action on sugar reduction. The evidence suggests that a similarly structured programme delivering an ambitious reduction in calories would also bring benefits to the population.

The proposed calorie reduction programme challenges the food industry to achieve a 20% reduction in calories by 2024 in product categories that contribute significantly to children’s calorie intakes (up to the age of 18 years) and where there is scope for substantial reformulation and/ or portion size reduction. This requires work to be undertaken by retailers and manufacturers, restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaway and delivery services and others included in the sugar reduction programme.

PHE will work behind the scenes with the food industry to slowly improve the calorie and wider nutrient content of everyday foods without families having to proactively make burdensome changes. It will undertake work to further define the food categories to be included in the programme with baseline analysis for each of these to assist businesses.

This will inform proposed category guidelines, which will be subject to comprehensive engagement and consultation with industry and other stakeholders later in 2018. It is expected that the industry guidelines will be published mid 2019 alongside baseline levels of calories in the food categories included in the programme for the year ending August 2017.

Businesses are encouraged to start work now to reduce the calorie content of everyday foods included in the calorie reduction programme. PHE will closely monitor progress by businesses and produce detailed reports annually from 2020. It will advise government if sufficient progress is not being made.

The calorie reduction programme focuses on large businesses that are providing the greatest volume of foods and consequentially calories into the food chain. It incorporates foods providing an additional 19% of the calories consumed by children into the reduction and reformulation programme. Together with the sugar reduction programme (25% of calories) and drinks (5% of calories which come from drinks that are included in the soft drinks industry levy and PHE’s separate programme), this will broadly account for 50% of children’s overall calorie intakes.

Although the programme focuses on foods consumed by children up to the age of 18 years, families eat the same foods and therefore it should support all family members in reducing their calorie consumption, particularly with continued support through the Change4Life and OneYou campaigns. It should also help to address health inequalities, as rates of obesity in children tend to be highest in the most deprived groups.

The reduction and reformulation programme, and the calorie reduction work specifically, is a key intervention that PHE believes will contribute to reducing the incidence of childhood obesity.




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