Amanda is Healthy Food Guide's nutrition editor with a degree in nutrition and a post-grad diploma in dietetics. She is a member of the British Dietetic Association; The Nutrition Society and The Guild of Food...

By Amanda Ursell

Public Health England’s (PHE) decision to focus attention on calorie reduction can only be a good thing, in the view of HFG. PHE has announced it will consider the evidence, set guidelines and closely monitor calorie reduction as part of its on-going implement of the Childhood Obesity Strategy launched last autumn.

As with its current push to encourage the food industry to reduce sugar in foods most frequently eaten by children (by 20% by 2020), it’s focusing its calorie reduction strategy on the types of foods children eat the most of.

Not surprisingly, this means pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches, along with ready meals, are all under the spotlight.

Will it work?
Anyone doubting the effectiveness of requesting the food industry to come to the table voluntarily in the name of public health need only reflect on the huge success of salt reductions achieved over the past 10 to 15 years.

The reduced levels of salt now found in a broad range of products, from bread and soups to ready meals and pasta sauces, have directly led to significant drops in national average salt intakes.

With adults consuming, on average, 200 to 300 calories more than they need each day, and children following suit, lowering calories from sugar-rich and other food groups is critical. It’s just part of the many pronged approach needed to help people help themselves, in order to avoid gaining weight and reduce the load of excess body fat.

‘A third of children leave primary school overweight or obese and an excess of calories – not just excess sugar consumption – is the root cause of this,’ says Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE.

What’s next?
PHE will publish the evidence in early 2018. Following this, it will then consult with the food industry, trade bodies and health non-governmental organisations to develop guidance and timelines for the calorie reduction programme.

‘We will work with the food companies and retailers to tackle this as the next critical step in combating our childhood obesity problem,’ says Duncan.

With more and more children – some as frighteningly young as seven – being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, time is running out. It’s time to make fundamental changes to our food environment rather than simply expecting people to make the changes needed. Calorie reduction in popularly consumed food is, we believe, an important piece of the obesity jigsaw.