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expert reaction to PHE plans to cut excess calorie consumption

Public Health England (PHE) has published their plan to cut excess calorie consumption, as part of the government’s strategy to cut childhood and adult obesity.


Prof Sonia Saxena, Professor of Primary Care, Imperial College London, said:

“Challenging the food industry with the goal of reducing calorie content by 20% and smaller portion sizes is a welcome step, because there is good evidence of overconsumption, particularly in disadvantaged areas.  More than half of all sugar intake in British children and young people’s diets is coming from unhealthy snacks and soft drinks.  Good diet is a major protective factor for health, which will save the health service money in the long term.

“What could really make a difference is if the lower calorie options are genuinely healthier, as appealing to families and equally affordable compared with foods available now.  The plans to involve the whole food industry, including prepared food outlets, sound promising.  Ultimately, families need strong messages to guide them towards making healthy choices about what they put into their kitchen cupboards and into their bodies.”


Dr Katarina Kos, obesity researcher and consultant in diabetes and weight management, University of Exeter Medical School, said:

“This is a very promising programme which aims to reduce calories in food for children with the assumption that adults eat generally the same foods, so it will reduce their calories too.  It increases the responsibility on the food industry to reduce the calorie count in meals.  The aim of that is to reduce the risk of catching us unawares with unwanted and hidden calories.

“As we know from nutritional research and lifestyle interventions, the challenge is not just in offering reduced caloric meals but also in stopping further cravings and compensatory meals and behaviours.  Reducing the salt and sugar content of meals may indeed help us to reduce further cravings and reign in the hunger which is a good start, but there may be other additives which matter.”


Prof Russell Viner, Officer for Health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“PHE is right to challenge the food industry to reduce calories in products; this is bold and necessary action.  We strongly support the approach as a way of changing the environment to help reduce the number of unnecessary calories that many children consume every day.

“A number of factors contribute to eating too many calories, in particular the creep in portion sizes we’ve seen over the last 40 years; our food portions, particularly pizzas and hamburgers, are simply much bigger than they were in our parent’s time.  The availability of fast food at pocket money prices and the advertising of unhealthy food and drink to children add to the problem, as does the lack of nutritional labelling, particularly on out-of-home products.  It is our environment that pushes children to consume too many calories, far more than it is individual choices by families.

“For children and young people, it’s important that today’s measures are part of a wider package, including early education on the importance of a balanced diet, encouraging children and young people to exercise regularly and promote healthier food choices, preventing new fast food shops opening near schools and place a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed.”


Prof Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine, University of Glasgow, said:

“This is a step in the right direction. We need to cut calories in many foods and make it easier for people to eat more healthily without much conscious effort.  Lessening high calories options is one of the best ways to make the biggest difference to most people.  Education alone will never work so we have to change what foods are provided in society.  Differential pricing will also help move people to better quality foods made cheaper and unhealthy foods made dearer but there will probably be resistance in the food industry since they will have to either produce better meals and/or take profit cuts, but they should realise they can remain profitable despite such changes. If the food and drinks industry are interested in the nation’s health, then they will toe the line but I think some will resist.

“Time will tell but this report is another step in the right direction.  Finally, whilst the targets for breakfast and lunch time are not strictly evidence based, they seem sensible and will help some people re-evaluate their intakes at these times and potentially moderate them by adopting healthier meal options.”


* ‘Calorie reduction: The scope and ambition for action’ will be published by Public Health England on Tuesday 6 March 2018. 


Declared interests

Prof Naveed Sattar: “No COI.”



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