Restaurants and supermarkets could be told not to offer high-calorie meals as part of a controversial bid to drive down obesity levels in the UK.
Public Health England’s (PHE) chief nutritionist warned the food industry had a “responsibility to act” as the proposed new guidelines were revealed today.
The move could force manufacturers and restaurants to radically rethink how thousands of popular dishes are made, including high-calorie meals like pizzas, roast dinners and fish and chips.
The plans, uncovered by the Daily Telegraph, were welcomed by health experts but faced scepticism from manufacturers, and could spark significant controversy among consumers when they go out to consultation in the New Year.
The calorie limits reportedly proposed by the government health body include 416 calories for chips in restaurants, 544 calories for ready meals, 550 calories for sandwiches and main meal salads and 951 calories for restaurant main meals.
Existing government guidelines suggest men should eat no more than 2,500 calories a day, with a 2,000 cap for women.
Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE chief nutritionist, told the Telegraph: “Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and severe obesity in 10- to 11-year-olds has reached an all-time high.
“These are early days in the calorie reduction programme but the food industry has a responsibility to act. We are consulting on ambitious guidelines to help tackle everyday excess calories – we welcome the industry’s feedback to help shape the final guidelines, due for publication next year.”
Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, welcomed the plans, saying too many everyday meals had high levels of saturated fats and sugar.
“The food industry absolutely must play its part in tackling obesity, and through adapting recipes and reducing over-sized portions, can make it much easier for families to make healthier choices,” she said.
But the proposals have already come under fire, with critics including a government minister suggesting they are too restrictive on both manufacturers and customers.
Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury and an MP on the right of the Conservative party, tweeted: “Too busy eating to engage with this…
The Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers, said it supported efforts to cut calories and portion sizes, but had “reservations about how achievable the targets are in reality”.
Neil Saunders, managing director of US analytics giant GlobalData’s retail arm, also weighed into the debate, tweeting: “We don’t need or want the nanny state dictating every aspect of what we eat.”