Public health officials are calling on food sellers and manufacturers to cut calories in their products by 20% by 2024, with big businesses that fail to make progress set to be named and shamed.
Public Health England says the ambitious target would slash costs to the NHS by £4.5bn over 25 years and prevent more than 35,000 premature deaths, with another £4.48bn saved in social care costs.
“We have more obese children in England than ever before – we have one in five children arriving in primary school already obese or overweight and one in three leaving primary school obese or overweight,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, adding that more than 60% of adults are also too heavy. “It is the norm now,” she said.
Tedstone said the cost to the NHS was substantial, with £6.6bn spent every year on obesity-related illnesses.
“It is not an attack on overweight folk,” said Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE. But, he said, “Britain needs to go on a diet.”
The latest initiative lays down the gauntlet to big businesses, including manufacturers, supermarkets and high street fast-food outlets. “This is about companies that are providing volume into the market,” said Tedstone.
The move builds on the government’s plan for action on childhood obesity, published in 2016, and follows a recent announcement by the agency that parents should limit their children to no more than two 100-calorie snacks a day.
The new strategy outlines 13 food categories, including savoury biscuits, cooking sauces, sandwiches, ready meals and potato products such as crisps and chips. However, foods in the agency’s separate plan to cut the sugar content of products such as chocolate, cakes and breakfast cereals by 20% are not included. The team say the sugar and calorie reduction efforts, together with the sugary drinks levy that is set to start next month, affect 50% of children’s overall intake of calories.