This week Public Health England released their latest report ‘Calorie reduction: The scope and ambition for action’. The 94 page report takes a detailed look at the impact that the rise in obesity is having on our society, and what is being done to try and tackle the issue.

So, why does the government think action is needed? The statistics in England make for quite uncomfortable reading:

  • obesity and obesity-related health conditions cost the NHS £6.1 billion each year;
  • according to the report, most adults are consuming an extra 200 to 300 calories each day;
  • and the average person in England is now classed as overweight.

What action is being taken?

The new diet outlined by PHE hopes to cut calorie intake by 20 percent by 2024. PHE acknowledges that food industry businesses (including manufacturers, retailers and ‘eating out of home’ establishments) need to play an active role in this by improving access to healthy food choices.

The scheme is working with key members of the food industry to:

  1. reformulate recipes, so that they focus on healthier ingredients by introducing more vegetables and leaner meats and reducing sugar, salt and calories;
  2. reduce the size of products;
  3. lower the prices of healthier food options.

The campaign is particularly focused on food often purchased to accommodate a busy or on-the-go lifestyle; such as ready meals, meal deals, pizza and snacks. Some key players from the food industry are already involved, including McDonald’s, Gregg’s and Starbucks.

The report also recognises that the current food environment encourages the general public to buy more and eat more; and it also accepts that obesity is a complex condition, closely linked to many different aspects of personal health, society and the environment.

Why has the focus been placed on calories?

An online survey conducted as part of the report found that only 38 percent of female respondents and 24 percent of male respondents knew how many calories formed their guidelines reference intake (2000 and 2500 respectively). PHE wants to clear up any confusion surrounding calories and instead provide the foundations for an easy to follow diet.

The new diet plan launched by the One You campaign suggests a 400/600/600 calorie model for breakfast/lunch/dinner, plus a couple of healthy snacks. It cites the NHS Eatwell guide for inspiration on food choices. The scheme hopes to target adults who are not giving enough thought to the amount of calories they are consuming, especially when they are outside of the home.

How has it been received?

The report has received a mixed welcome since its release on Tuesday.

Some commentators have sensationalised the report, suggesting that PHE is going too far by dissuading people from choosing traditional favourites such as fish and chips and the roast dinner (because these meals wouldn’t theoretically fit into the 600 calories or less bracket).

In reality these favourites are still on the table, but PHE would encourage the public to think about their portion sizes and how often they choose to eat them.  

The PHE Eatwell Guide has received some criticism previously for being inaccessible to low income families, but this report states that while ‘achieving the diet set out in the Eatwell Guide would require large changes to the average diet, these changes would not cost more than current dietary patterns.’

On the other side of the argument, many nutrition industry professionals are happy to see a new initiative that encourages mindful eating and places more accountability on food industry giants.

But some nutritionists think that placing the focus on calories (instead of on sugar for instance) is a step backwards that won’t provide the answer to England’s obesity crisis.

You can read the full report here.