Earlier this year we wrote an article about Public Health England’s strategy to cut calorie intake, and help reduce obesity. An important part of this strategy was the introduction of the 400-600-600 calorie campaign which encourages adults to pick breakfast, lunch and dinners that stays within these calorie limits.

Various large food chains expressed their commitment to the scheme at the time, including McDonald’s and Starbucks; and a recent announcement from KFC indicates that they are also aiming to make positive changes to the food and drink they offer.

Here, we'll take a closer look at what the fast food giant hopes to achieve over the next seven years.

KFC’s announcement

Victoria Robertson, Head of Food Innovation at KFC UK, announced that the company is aiming for an overall reduction in calories by 20 per cent per serving by 2025. She provided further details on the types of strategies they plan to use, which include:

  1. Expanding and improving the range of under 600 calorie options. They hope to introduce more lunch and dinner options that keep in line with the PHE guidelines for 600 calories. They are also looking at introducing vegetarian options. Going forwards KFC will only be launching low calorie or zero calorie drinks.
  2. Reformulation of current products. KFC wants to reduce the amount of salt, calories and fat being used in their existing menu without compromising taste. KFC fans should note that this does not mean that they will be making changes to their Original Recipe chicken.
  3. Testing healthy choice initiatives. KFC are looking to trial various behavioural change programmes to help make it easier for customers to choose healthier options. This includes free swaps from fries to a five-a-day vegetable side and offering low calorie and no calorie drinks as the default options.

We spoke to registered nutritionist Jenna Hope (ANutr), MSc, BSc (Hons) to discuss KFC’s proposed changes, and whether they go far enough.

The fight against obesity

KFC is one of several popular fast food outlets to get on board with PHE’s strategy for tackling obesity. But just how big a role do fast food companies play in the overall fight against obesity?

As Jenna explains: ‘It’s really important for fast food chains to be on board with the fight against obesity. Obesity is a multifactorial and extremely complicated condition, the cause is not the same for every individual. As it’s such a complex condition it’s essential that everyone takes responsibility and adopts procedures to help reduce overall UK obesity.'

Jenna goes on to say, ‘[...] it’s great to see that KFC are offering free swaps from fries to healthier vegetable sides. It’s good to see that KFC are taking a lead on making changes which will hopefully inspire some of the other fast food chains to follow in their footsteps.’

As mentioned above, PHE’s latest campaign concentrates on calorie consumption and the focus on numbers has also been reflected in the changes KFC have set out.

But it’s important to remember that calories are not the be-all-and-end-all of nutrition. As Jenna explains: 'KFC are focusing largely on calories and it’s important for the general population to understand that calories are not necessarily the only answer when it comes to obesity. Many of the low calorie drinks are high in artificial sweeteners which have been shown to increase appetite and affect neurodegenerative disease risk.’  

Do the changes go far enough?

KFC is a large company and seven years may seem like a long time for these changes to be implemented. ‘Their proposed changes are a good start,' Jenna says, 'although it’s important that they follow through with all of their proposed changes.’

‘They have mentioned that they’re going to be adding vegetarian dishes to the menu, it’s important that these dishes are packed with vegetables to increase micronutrients and fibre rather than mainly consisting of refined carbohydrates which may contribute to the problem.’

Jenna adds that as well as the focus on salt, fat and calories, there are other areas that could be addressed. ‘In addition to this I would urge KFC to also look at reducing the sugar content of their food as well as minimising the portion sizes and removing large portion options from the menu.’

Is it possible to eat healthily at fast food outlets?

There are many different styles of fast food chains throughout the UK. Not all fast food outlets only provide consumers with ‘unhealthy’ options. However, the bigger the chain, the more impact they can have on the eating habits of the general population.

According to a 2015 survey, KFC is the second most popular fast food chain in the UK with approximately 890 KFCs throughout the UK and Ireland.

Should we avoid fast food outlets in order to have a healthy diet?

‘In an ideal world I might suggest that it would be better to avoid fast food outlets altogether, although this isn’t realistic.' Jenna says. Therefore I would suggest that people cut down their attendance by half and try opting for healthier on-the-go options from supermarkets.’

Whilst it is great to see fast food chains taking steps towards healthier menus, it is also important for consumers to educate themselves on diet and nutrition and make sensible food choices.

As Jenna explains: ‘Consumers should also be taking responsibility and should be opting for the vegetable side dishes and grilled chicken options over the fries and fried chicken. Consumers can also pass on the fizzy drinks and opt for water instead.’