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This week, Public Health England published a new report into calorie consumption, calling on food makers to cut calories in the products to help in the combat against obesity. The findings were discussed by the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Guardian, among many others.

Key points of the report include:

  • New evidence highlighting overweight or obese boys and girls consume up to 500 and 290 calories too many each day respectively
  • A challenge to the food industry to reduce calories in products consumed by families by 20% by 2024
    • This will include 13 types of savoury, processed foods such as pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, meat products and savoury snacks.
    • Food companies can achieve this by either 1) reducing portion sizes, 2) reformulation of products or 3) signposting to lower calorie options already available.

According to PHE, “If the 20% target is met within 5 years, more than 35,000 premature deaths could be prevented and around £9 billion in NHS healthcare and social care costs could be saved over a 25 year period.”

Alongside the report comes the launch of the One You campaign, encouraging adults to consume 400 calories at breakfast, and 600 each for lunch and dinner, plus a couple of healthy snacks in between. This comes as adults consume 200 to 300 calories in excess each day.

  • Major high street brands are partnering with PHE on the campaign (including Greggs, Starbucks, McDonalds and Subway), helping show consumers which meals can meet the 400-600-600kcal mark. Total daily calorie intake recommendations remain at 2,000kcal for women and 2,500kcal for men.
  • The Only You Easy Meals app gives ideas for what could fit into this (also see our examples listed further below).

This new plan from the Government comes on top of the sugar levy which comes into force next month and the sugar reduction programme. Read more about both here


Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view

The battle against being overweight or obese is an important one:

  • In the UK, two thirds of adults and one third of children are classed as ‘overweight’ (Body Mass Index over 25kg/m2) or ‘obese’ (Body Mass Index over 30kg/m2).
  • Overweight and obesity can have a serious impact on health and increase the risk of:
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Musculoskeletal disorders (like osteroarthritis)
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Some types of cancer (such as breast cancer, endometrial and bowel cancer)
    • Psychological problems

Source: World Health Organisation

While we hope the new plan by the government will help with the obesity battle, there are some points to consider when going through the plans:

  1. Cutting foods by 20% in calories – This is a voluntary target and so unfortunately there is no guarantee food companies will actually respond to these targets. However, PHE have stated that if there is little response, they will ‘name and shame’ the brands that are not co-operating and they would then consider asking the Government to legislate.
  2. The 400-600-600 tip

This could be a useful way to help people stay more on track at mealtimes; it is simple approach and easy to remember. Here are a here are a few examples from the Only You App

400kcal breakfast

600kcal lunch 600kcal dinner
Banana porridge made with milk and oats with raspberry mash Beans on wholegrain toast with mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers Chicken and vegetable parcels with noodles or potatoes
Traffic light omelettes with mixed peppers Salmon and cucumber wholewheat wraps with watercress

 

Lentil and vegetable cobbler
Toasted oats with yogurt, apple and grapes Wholegrain pitta pizza with with mushrooms, tomatoes and light mozzarella New potato and tuna salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, while it’s suggested just as a guide, men require more calories than women… is it appropriate to apply such advice to both? Using the 400-600-600 calorie rules, this would leave men with 900 calories left within their recommended daily allowance for snacks. Would you say this was the best approach?The “guide” element in our view will need to be emphasised much more in the communications.

  1. Nutrient intake
    It’s good to be calorie aware and know rough guides, but sometimes the higher calorie option could be healthier than the lower calorie option. What calorie counting does not do is consider nutrient intake of a meal nor the balance of different foods in a meal, which is a major drawback of the approach.

To give a breakfast example, a white bacon roll (about 290 calories) offers little beneficial nutrition but could come in at lower calories than a bowl of porridge topped with a piece of sliced fruit and a handful of nuts (about 400 calories). The latter offers a healthier source of protein and fats from the nuts compared to processed meat, plus a portion of fruit. The porridge would help contribute to our fibre much more than the roll – and in the UK, the current average fibre intake needs to increased by 60% to be meeting the UK recommendations.

So while we may reduce calorie consumption, we may then lose something else that is good for our health (e.g. fibre). The approach in fact has the potential to be counterproductive if we choose a meal that is lower in quality, causing excess snacking if, for example, you didn’t have enough fibre in the meal to fill you up.

It’s great that the supporting app and website help teach more about healthy choices; hopefully those who decide to follow 400-600-600 will take the advice on board. It will be important for PHE to monitor the uptake and how healthy the choices will be and for us as public health advisers to be aware of these results.

  1. There is the suggestion and worry that such rules with calories could create unhealthy relationships with food for some.
  2. Finally there is no magic bullet to the obesity crisis. It  continues to require large scale urgent multi-pronged approaches to be overcome and we must not loose sight of this which know from unanimous research including the game changing McKinsey Global Institute Report on overcoming obesity, that has yet to be truly taken on board by any overweight nation.

Takeaway message

This is an important new report and initiative from Public Health England which overall we welcome and hope alongside other initiatives already started as well as those yet to come will help to make a difference to the current obesity crisis. We look forward to supporting the initiative in the context of what is also eaten in our communications alongside other strategies dependent on the audiences that we are influencing. In the meantime we also hope that this initiative will be communicated and closely measured by PHE in the context of the above concerns as WHAT we eat is of great value to our overall health and weight, not just how much we eat.

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