UK targets ready meals, pizzas and burgers amid calorie crackdown

The UK government has announced plans to crack down on high-calorie foods including burgers and ready meals as part of its efforts to reduce childhood obesity, following its move to introduce a sugar tax last year.

Public Health England has been asked to examine children's calorie consumption and come up with a programme to remove excess calories from "the foods children consume the most" by the beginning of 2018. The health body specifically named "ready meals, pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches" as the foods most likely to be targeted by the programme.
PHE will publish its findings early next year, before consulting with the industry and health associations to develop a timeline to cut back the calories in those foods.
The government is likely to introduce a set of voluntary guidelines for the food industry to follow. One person familiar with the proposals said the government could turn to "other levers" if the industry failed to implement its guidelines.
Earlier this year the government introduced a "sugar reduction programme" that challenges the food industry to reduce the sugar content in their foods by 20 per cent by 2020, through substituting sugar for sweeteners and reducing portion sizes.

Help to healthier life

"Too many of our children are growing up obese, which can lead to serious health complications," said Philip Dunne, minister of state for health. "We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories."
The announcement was given a cautious welcome by the food industry. The Food and Drink Federation, which represents UK food and drink manufacturers, said it would "rise to the challenge" of the sugar tax and "engage" with the new proposals concerning calories.
"We are pleased the government has confirmed the broadening of its focus beyond just sugar - and towards calories - as it seeks to tackle obesity," a spokesperson said. "FDF has long advocated this 'whole diet' approach."
Greggs, the high street baker which has beefed up its healthy food offering in recent years, said it would continue to adapt its range to new regulations and guidelines. "We recognise that the national obesity issue is a shared responsibility and remain fully supportive of the government's ambition to reduce calories consumption," it said.

Not simple

However, a senior figure at one UK supermarket said the plans would be difficult to formulate, and that cracking down on calories was not as simple as forcing food companies to reduce sugar content. They said that while the industry accepted the need to cut back on sugar and salt, cutting calories would mean simply reducing pack sizes, which would not solve the underlying problem.
The government's sugar tax was introduced in the 2016 budget. The levy is scheduled to come into force in April 2018, and places a tax of 18p a litre on soft drinks with more than 5 grams of sugar per 100ml, and a second, higher band of 24p on those with more than 8g per 100ml. The government expects to raise £520m from the tax in the first year.
The tax forced some companies producing sugary drinks to hasten their plans to cut back on sugar. Lucozade Ribena Suntory, the Japanese-owned group, said it would halve the sugar in its products - replacing them with artificial sweeteners - in order to escape the tax altogether.
Public Health England said that about 40,000 deaths per year in England were attributable to being overweight and that an estimated 70,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year if UK diets matched nutritional guidelines.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017