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Action on Salt

Calorie Reduction Programme

Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action (2016)

The calorie reduction programme was initially proposed in 2016 as part of the Governments report 'Childhood obesity: A Plan for Action'. The ambition was to challenge the food industry to reduce calories in products consumed by families by 20% by 2024 by:

  • changing the recipe of products (reformulation)
  • reducing portion size
  • encouraging consumers to purchase lower calorie products 

Click here to read the Calorie reduction: The scope and ambition for action 

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of CASH and Action on Sugar said:

"We applaud PHE’s plans to reformulate and cut excess calorie consumption in what could be a ground breaking campaign. However, in order for it to be successful, it is imperative that the 20% calorie reduction targets are properly enforced and transparent. We also need clear guidance from Government on what will happen if the food industry fails to comply, as it is vital that the industry is given a level-playing field and all companies, both retail and Out of Home, fully co-operate.

Furthermore, whilst the One You campaign is a good rule of thumb, it won't go far enough as an educational campaign in terms of changing consumer behaviour, especially when targeting the socially deprived who are at most risk of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. There is also a danger that this awareness campaign could simply be used as a marketing tool by food retailers and the Out of Home sector to sell more products."

New Calorie Reduction Targets Announced (September 2020) 

In 2020, PHE announced new and long overdue targets for calorie reduction in a bid to encourage the food industry to play their part in tackling the country's obesity crisis. Following on from the consultation process some changes were made, with smaller reductions proposed for the retail sector in recognition of the efforts already made. A 20% reduction remained for the out of home sector in an attempt to bring them in line with the rest of the industry. 

Key points from the calorie targets include: 

SA - Simple Average, SWA - Sales Weighted Average

Table 1: Summary of calorie reduction guidelines for in home retailers and manufacturers and crisps and savoury snacks guideline

Table 2: Summary of calorie reduction guidelines for the eating out, takeaway and delivery section and joint categories

The calorie reduction targets are still only voluntary guidelines for the food industry but PHE has committed to progress reports in 2022, 2024 and 2025

Click here to read the Calorie reduction technical report 

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Salt, said: "Reformulation targets are a vital part of the Government’s new obesity strategy, which includes restrictions on promotions and advertising high salt, fat and sugar food and drinks to children before 9pm. Less salty and calorific foods will make it easier for parents to make healthier choices for their families, and they will make it easier for manufacturers to be able to continue to promote their products.

We welcome the latest announcement from PHE on a renewed focus on food reformulation. But despite a lot of ‘ambition’ mentioned within the calorie reduction report, this hasn’t necessarily come through in the proposed targets. What is clear is that these targets have been created with the industry in mind, with many watered down or removed completely, and so we expect no less than 100% achievement by 2024. Rather than waiting until 2024, the quicker manufacturers release their improved products, the quicker we will all see the benefits on our health.

The new targets recognise how far the retail sector has come already compared to the eating out of the home sector. It is vital that restaurants, takeaways and home delivery companies are brought in line with the supermarkets, as they are still an important contributor of salt and excess calories. The out of home sector must play their part in providing us with healthier options if we are to have a healthy recovery from the pandemic.

Given previous experiences with voluntary guidelines, we call on the Government once again to set up an independent watchdog for the management of these programmes, with sanctions or levies if the food industry do not comply."

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