Health chiefs have warned that everything from pizzas to burgers, packs of crisps and ready meals will have to shrink in an attack on obesity.
The Government watchdog, Public Health England, is drawing up targets to cut the calorie content of 75 per cent of food on sale in the high street.
The organisation is expected to press for an across the board reduction of more than 10 per cent.
The reductions will be achieved by a mixture of reformulation, taking out some high calorie ingredients, and shrinking products.
PHE have previously set targets to cut the sugar levels in a vast range of products, such as chocolate bars and children’s yoghurts, by an average of 20 per cent.
The Government is drawing up guidelines aimed at drastically cutting the calories in popular savoury foods such as pizzas, burgers and crisps
As a result, a number of famous brands have changed the ingredients or cut the size of chocolate bars or the weight of packs of sweets.
Reductions in sugar
Nestle has reduced the sugar content in a number of products like KitKat and the Milkybar on health grounds.
At the same time, everything from Toblerone bars to some Kitkat brands, Maltesers, M&M’s and Minstrels have come down in size.
Now, PHE experts are turning to other foods such as pizzas, ready meals, fast food and shop-bought sandwiches.
Chief nutritionist at PHE, Dr Alison Tedstone, told The Grocer that the attack on calorie counts will dwarf its current campaign on sugar levels.
She said proposals that are being drawn up to take calories out of products such as ready meals, burgers and crisp packets would test how far the public would go to prioritise a healthy diet.
Tackling ready meals, sandwiches and snacks
She suggested PHE would be looking for a doubledigit reduction in calories across thousands products, with popular foods such as pizzas having to shrink.
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A drastic diet to cut your daily calories by a fifth could ward off cancer and diabetes.
Scientists have found it is possible to turn back the clock and live longer using extreme dieting in middle age.
In monkeys, stopping them from eating between 5pm and 8am extended their lives by 10 per cent, compared to eating normally.
University of Wisconsin researchers said the findings that dieting can fight ageing will also apply to humans, who share 93 per cent of the same genes.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, follows research showing that fasting in middle age, or going without food after dark, can help people to live longer, healthier lives.
Restricting the food we put into our bodies appears to make them more able to fight off the illnesses which accompany old age.
Dr Tedstone said: ‘The work we have done on sugar has tackled foods responsible for about 25 per cent of the calories people eat.
‘We are now looking to move on to those responsible for the lion’s share, like ready meals, sandwiches and snacks.
‘It is going to be a test because in the crackdown on sugar we had three years of huge noise, whereas there hasn’t been that buildup with calories. It has been products that are high in sugar where we have seen things like portion reduction. I don’t see portion reduction happening in pizzas.’
Dr Tedstone said the scale of calorie reduction has not been decided yet, but she said it would have to be substantial.
‘We haven’t decided yet what the figure will be. It doesn’t follow that it will be 20per cent like sugar, but we’re not going to set a ridiculously low target. It can’t be 5 per cent.’
She said the changes would require a change in the ingredients of some products, while others would have to be cut in size.
Backlash from consumers
The proposals risk a backlash from both the food industry and consumers. There is some suspicion that a number of food companies use health concerns to shrink products without cutting prices.
Dr Tedstone said the efforts by PHE were not only designed to improve the health of individuals, but are also important in terms of the wider economy.
‘I hope that people will realise we are already paying for the size of the pizzas we eat in the taxation we pay for dealing with obesity in the NHS. What you eat today, your taxes pay for tomorrow,’ she said.
The PHE has no legal powers to force companies to cut calorie levels, however it can name and shame those that fail to do so. Just this tactic has been used successfully to force through sugar reductions.