Will voluntary calorie guidelines reduce obesity?

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The food industry is being encouraged to help consumers move toward a healthy weight by following new voluntary calorie guidelines that would look to reduce calories in everyday foods by up to 20% by 2024.

The government has argued that excess calories in these everyday foods are the reason many people are consuming more calories than they need. By taking a collective approach through voluntary guidelines the government believes that industry can dramatically reduce the obesity crisis affecting the country.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “We can all do our bit to stay healthy, to help protect us from coronavirus and take pressure off the NHS.

“The food industry can play their part, by making it as easy as possible for everyone to eat more healthily. These guidelines will help them take positive action.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist for PHE, said: “Eating food and drink that’s higher in calories than people realise is one of the reasons why many of us are either overweight or obese.

“This is about broadening choice for consumers, as well as making the healthier choice the easy choice. Progress to date on sugar and salt reduction has shown that this can happen without compromising on taste and quality.”

However the British Diatetic Association is arguing that setting voluntary targets doesn’t go far enough.

BDA Policy Officer, Chloe Adams RD, said “Although food is about much more than calories, we do know that as a nation we eat too much calorie-dense, high sugar, fat and salt foods, which is bad for our health. Portion sizes of many foods have increased significantly in the past 20 years, so many of us will be eating more without realising it.

“Getting manufacturers to reduce the size and calorie content of their foods is one positive way of improving the nations health, but it must be part of a wider range of measures. We need to improve our food environment, make sure that healthy, nutritious food is both affordable and available to all, and support people living with obesity to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

“Critically, these are currently only voluntary targets, and government must be ready to go further if this approach does not work. We have already seen with the sugar reduction programme that industry has failed to meet the voluntary targets for free sugars in food, despite ample support and time to take action. We need a plan B to enforce improvements.”

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