The UK government has urged restaurants, takeaways and ready meal providers to reduce the number of calories in their food by 20% before 2024, in an effort to tackle obesity. Clinical obesity is rising in the UK and is also leading Britons to suffer from various associated health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Public Health England have provided a list of targets for hospitality business owners to strive for. But health groups have argued these measures don’t go far enough and that the targets should be mandatory. A report commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that by reducing sugar from fizzy drinks, the government has helped protect children from obesity.
There has also been progress when it comes to reducing calories in cereal, yoghurt and ice cream. However, PHE also revealed that progress across other food groups has been slower. Others argue that by making the program voluntary, it risks it being largely ignored by some manufacturers within the food industry.
Defending the government’s measures, health minister Jo Churchill said, “On sugar reduction, particularly in products like breakfast cereals, yogurts and ice cream, we have achieved some much-needed progress. This will make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices, but it’s clear more can be done.”
She went on to say, “Covid-19 has highlighted obesity and how important it is to tackle it. Our recent announcement of the obesity strategy includes world-leading measures, such as a TV watershed for advertising food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar, and consulting on how we can introduce a ban online. If more action is needed to support individuals to lead a healthy life, we will go further to help them.”
Graham MacGregor, who is the chairman of Action on Sugar, also felt like the government need to go further, saying, “Apart from the sugary drinks levy, it’s abundantly clear that the Government’s voluntary sugar reduction programme is simply not working, after reporting a dismal 0.1% reduction in sugar between 2018 and 2019.”
He continued, “Food and drink companies that want to do the right thing are crying out for a level playing field, which can only be achieved by setting mandatory targets for calorie and sugar reduction. The soft drinks levy has shown that this approach is both best for business, and best for everyone’s health, including people from more disadvantaged groups.”
Making the calorie reduction mandatory would help tackle obesity in the UK. It would also allow companies to indeed be on a ‘level playing field’, as all would need to abide by the same rules. Rather than cherry-pick the ones that suit them.
While beneficial, the move also raises questions about consumer choice when ordering food. Adults should have the right to eat whatever they choose, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy the ingredients may be. Although children may not understand the difference, so making such a rule mandatory on products intended for them makes sense.
The problem is, unless marketing campaigns specifically target children, how is anyone to say what unhealthy snacks are for any age group? All food can be consumed by all ages and enforcing laws based targeting by demographics does nothing to create consistency across the industry.
Finally, the move could cause irreparable damage to restaurants and manufacturers who offer particular food types. Reducing their menus to eliminate unhealthy food options or changing recipes altogether could risk some businesses going out of business. Many actually rely on this food to exist.
Some items are simply unhealthy and are designed to be an occasional treat. One where moderation is advised. The items they produce could be their main selling point. While reducing sugar and calories from these items may help tackle obesity, it could also leave many people without jobs in the long run.