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Public Health England's Calorie Reduction Programme

Earlier this year Public Health England (PHE) announced its calorie reduction programme to mixed reviews across commentators and consumers. We asked Barbara Bray, MIFST, RNutr, NSch, to break down the aims of the programme.

The six year programme is expected to reduce calories in food eaten in and out of home by 20% and the following 3 options have been proposed:

  • Reduction of portion size
  • Shifting consumer purchasing to lower sugar or no added sugar alternatives
  • Recipe reformulation

The purpose is to address the rising levels of obesity especially within the population of children although the programme is not confined to targeting foods specifically marketed at or made for children.

It will be interesting to see how food manufacture and food service industry respond to the challenge.

In December 2017, there was a lot of media attention on fast-food chains as Public Health England (PHE) reminded us all about the daily calorie intake guidelines.

The advice hasn’t changed, it is still 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 calories per day for men. The recommendation is to have 400 at breakfast, 600 at lunch and 600 during an evening meal leaving the balance to be made up from snacks.

So where does that leave food eaten outside of the home?

Traditionally people ate out infrequently as a treat, but with 1 in every 6 meals now eaten outside of the home, large portions have become too much of a routine.

An all day brunch for example, can be over 1000kcal in a restaurant and a gourmet burger sandwich around 800kcal so it can be quite easy for someone who has already had 2 meals and snacks to overeat at a restaurant evening meal.

I travelled to New Zealand in November 2017 as part of my Nuffield Farming Research. Whilst there I saw how a successful collaboration between the Ministry of Health, food service providers and Potatoes NZ resulted in the reduction of portion size, fat and salt in chips eaten outside of the home.

Consumption of fried chips in NZ is high and is one of the main sources of fat and salt in the diet. Realising that it would not be successful in telling the population to eat fewer chips, the Ministry of Health looked at a chip nutrition project with potatoes NZ to improve chip quality and reduce the amount of oil and salt through training the food service staff. All stakeholders supported the measure and the small changes that the cooks have been able to make are resulting in improvements in the national diet.

In England, PHE began the second phase of the work in August 2017 focusing on bakery-led stores, sandwich shops, cafes and food service businesses. Sugar reduction was just the beginning, calorie reduction is the next challenge.

Written by: Barbara Bray