Nine out 10 people want their food to be made healthier to stop them becoming obese, a survey has revealed.
Pressure is building on the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar and calories in their foods as more and more people become overweight.
A huge majority of people believe supermarkets should have healthier foods by the check-outs and agree obesity is one of the UK’s biggest health concerns.
Public Health England has warned it will call for more laws restricting the food industry if it doesn’t work hard enough to reduce sugar levels.
The food industry has been told to cut sugar levels in popular foods by 20 per cent before 2020, or Public Health England threatens it will bring in more laws like the sugar tax
‘Obesity is the pandemic of modern times,’ said Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England (PHE), which commissioned the research.
‘Customers are saying they want faster progress from the food industry and in particular those businesses that have taken little or no action.’
PHE warned it will be keeping a close eye on food businesses to track the Government’s ambition of reducing sugar intake by 20 per cent by 2020.
Companies have been told to cut a fifth of the sugar content out of popular foods such as breakfast cereals, yoghurts, pizzas and ready meals.
People are overwhelmingly in favour of the industry being forced to make its food healthier, according to PHE’s survey.
HOW THE GOVERNMENT IS TRYING TO STOP OBESITY
The proposed plans to restrict the number of calories in pizzas, pies and ready meals comes as part of drastic Government moves over the past year to try and cut down on obesity.
A tax on added sugar in drinks came into force in April, requiring companies to hand over more of the money they make from drinks which contain more than 5g of sugar per 100ml of liquid.
As a result, many soft drinks have had their recipes changed in order to avoid paying the tax and putting prices up. Sugary drinks are the biggest single source of sugar for children and teenagers.
The Government is also considering making it compulsory for all restaurants and fast food outlets to display the number of calories in each meal on their menu.
Some food outlets already do this but there can be unexpected numbers of calories in popular dishes, and the Government is consulting on the plans before a decision is due in spring.
In March this year, Public Health England warned Brits to crack down on the number of calories they’re eating, advising people to consume no more than 1,600 per day.
The watchdog says adults shouldn’t eat any more than 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for dinner – this would allow for some snacks, experts said.
Examples of 600-calorie meals include a tuna pasta salad and a small cereal bar, a chicken salad sandwich and a pack of crisps, or half a pepperoni pizza with a quarter of a garlic baguette and a banana.
In the same announcement PHE said shops selling the food should cut down their portion sizes to help people slim their waistlines.
Plans are also being considered to ban advertising junk food on television before 9pm, to reduce the number of children who are exposed to it.
Most people – 90 per cent in a survey of 1,000 – admitted individual and family responsibility are the most important.
But 80 per cent added the food industry must take steps to help, with another 72 per cent saying the Government needs to help people be healthy.
Some 87 per cent of people support swapping unhealthy snacks at supermarket tills with healthier ones.
The survey comes after a sugar tax was this year placed on soft drinks and there are plans to restrict the number of calories allowed on pizzas and pies.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: ‘Severe obesity in ten-to-eleven year olds is at an all-time high.
‘Plans to improve the nation’s diet are often described as “nanny state” interference, but it’s clear people want healthier food and they expect the industry to play their full part in this.’
Figures last month revealed children in England are fatter than ever, with more than 200,000 10 to 11-year-olds classed as overweight or obese, and 24,000 of those severely obese.
Places selling hot meals such as restaurants, cafes, pubs and takeaways have been targeted by PHE’s warning to crack down.
It warns it will highlight places which aren’t working towards providing healthier meals, and may take more action against the industry as a whole – though it is not clear what form this could take.
Dr Tedstone suggested the Government could bring in more laws like the sugar tax to control what goes into food.
‘We would hope to see significant reduction in the amount of sugar in the nine categories and products included in PHE’s sugar reduction programme,’ she added.
‘We will advise if there is need for further action by Government when the data is published.
‘In chapter two of the Childhood Obesity Plan they said they would consider other fiscal levers if progress was not good enough – we have already got a levy on sugary drinks.’
A report published in May this year revealed the food industry had failed to meet its target of cutting five per cent of sugar from popular foods by August 2017.
Pressure will continue to grow on companies producing and selling food as increasing numbers of people become obese.
Around a quarter of all adults in the UK are now obese, according to the NHS, and Public Health England’s survey – run by pollster Ipsos Mori – found 79 per cent of people agreed obesity has a negative impact on the NHS.
The public acknowledged it as the third biggest health concern for people in the UK – behind only cancer and mental health.