Education must underpin action as Public Health England plan calorie cuts

With startling obesity figures continuing to make headlines in the United Kingdom, Public Health England have announced their latest plans to try and halt the epidemic.
Officials have called upon food manufacturers to cut calorie content in their products by 20% across the next six years in an attempt to save the NHS huge sums of money with obesity linked to 13 different types of cancer. It is estimated that £4.5 billion will be saved over the next 25 years, alongside 35,000 premature deaths being prevented if such targets can be hit.
Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist of Public Health England, explained: We have more obese children in England than ever before. We have one in five children arriving in primary school already obese or overweight and one in three leaving primary school obese or overweight. 60% of adults are also too heavy and the cost to the NHS is substantial, with £6.6bn spent every year on obesity-related illnesses.”
But will the plans actually fall into place and make a difference?
Punishment for food manufacturers failing to reach the 20% target will lead to businesses being ‘named and shamed’. This could cause a dent to branding images but are well-known fast food outlets such as McDonalds and KFC past the point where such ‘shaming’ will actually make an impact on their productivity? If a number of manufacturers fail to reach the target, the punishment process will have very little impact at all.

Similar movements have been outlined around sugar and salt content but hardly any manufacturers are on track to reach their targets. Following plans set in 2014, only 1 out of 28 products met salt-reduction targets for 2017 with bread rolls leading a solo effort.
Professor Francesco Rubino, Chair of metabolic and bariatric surgery at King’s College London, suggested that it is a tough task for manufacturers to completely recreate their products. He explained, “if you ask the food industry to change their products to reduce calories, you don’t know exactly how they will accomplish that.”
Whilst manufacturers battle with their products to reach ambitious targets with very little reward, problems remain at a consumer level.
Public Health England’s National Child Measurement Programme found that every age bracket in the country, both male and female, are exceeding average daily calorie intake recommendations. Men aged 30 and over have the largest gap between the suggested allowance and actual intake.
However, the whole process of calorie counting is a challenge in itself. The more ingredients you add to a meal, the harder the equation becomes and recommended intake varies for everyone depending upon the amount of physical exercise you undertake. A recent Twitter poll found that only 31% of adults were aware of their recommended calorie intake and how much they actually consume.
Education also needs to underpin the desired action to ensure the general public are fully aware of what they are putting into their system. Evolve staff have recently been delivering ‘Healthy Heart’ talks in conjunction with Heart Research UK and statistics in the East Midlands dished up some surprise results.
A survey of 50 classes all considered a packet of crisps to have more salt than a standard tin of baked beans, unaware that just half a tin contains almost three times as much salt than a whole packet of crisps. Similarly, just 20% of children aged 4-11 considered fish to be a healthy food product.
School staff were also surprised by such information with one teacher explaining, “it goes to show that we don’t always know what we are consuming on a daily basis.”
Whilst we wait to see what impact, if any, these latest plans have on food production, the Government must start looking at ways to further educate the public about healthy eating and drinking.