The Obesity Battle: Calorie reductions for industry

The Obesity Battle: Calorie reductions for industry
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The government (England) has announced new measures to help people move towards and maintain a healthier weight by reducing excessive calories in everyday foods by up to 20% by 2024. High calories in many products in a broad range of everyday meals and foods are one of the reasons why many of us are consuming more calories than we need.

According to the press release, “Calories can be particularly high in takeaway and restaurant food, now a regular part of our diets. For example, a pizza for one sold at a restaurant or takeaway can have as many as 2,320 calories compared to 1,368 calories when purchased from shops or supermarkets. Research suggests that when someone eats out or has a takeaway meal they consume on average 200 more calories per day.”

The ambitions in the government strategy are the achievement of the following:

  • 20% calorie reduction for most meal categories in the eating out of home, takeaway and delivery sector, alongside a maximum calorie guideline for all categories
  • for children’s meal bundles, a 10% calorie reduction ambition has been set to reflect progress already made
  • 10% calorie reduction ambition for retailers making ready meals, chips and garlic bread, alongside a maximum calorie guideline for all categories
  • for crisps and savoury snacks, a 5% ambition
  • combined guidelines for both sectors have been set for sandwiches (5% ambition) and pizza and pastry products (20% ambition)

The scheme also sees efforts to reduce the salt content of foods as part of a plan to reduce high blood pressure.

If you read the press release, however, what stands out prominently is that the scheme is entirely voluntary. There is no legal requirement for the industry to achieve the ambitions set forth in the new guidelines. The government states clearly that voluntary guidelines are “a key commitment of the government’s obesity strategy.”

There is justifiable room for concern over the reliance on the food industry to subscribe to voluntary guidelines that cannot be enforced. It is quite possible that many companies will use disingenuous methods to keep high-calorie, high-salt products on the self. For instance, they could do any of the following:

  • Release a “diet” version of the original product as a spin-off, while keeping the original on the market.
  • Reduce the portion size while failing to reduce the price by a corresponding amount. This would allow them to make higher profits at the expense of consumers; or alternatively simply encourage consumers to buy more of the product. The Toblerone chocolate size reduction furore a few years ago, together with the subsequent reversion to the original size (at a higher price) a couple of years later, come to mind.
  • Simply wait for the competition to make the first move and deal with the publicity fallout from consumers who feel they are being “cheated” or, worse still, “nannied” into compliance with dietary laws. This of course runs the risk of companies being caught in a stalemate, with none of them making the first move.

We hope that, as the government’s promotion of a reduction in obesity levels gains momentum, companies will take advantage of marketing opportunities to present their products as fulfilling this objective, resulting in a true shift across the industry, with consequent benefits to the public.

MM Health

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