Britons were last night told to go on a diet by the nation’s public health watchdog and dramatically slash their calorie intake.
Public Health England wants all adults to get into the habit of counting the calories to limit their consumption at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It is also asking the food and restaurant industry to slash the calorie content of meals and popular family products such as quiche, hummus, meat pies, sausages and pasta sauce.
Public Health England wants all adults to get into the habit of counting the calories to limit their consumption at breakfast, lunch and dinner
Food firms and restaurants should reduce their average calorie content by a fifth by 2024, either by reducing portion sizes or changing the ingredients. Public Health England (PHE) said it was issuing the new guidelines because it feared that obesity – and its related illnesses – was now becoming the norm.
Chief executive Duncan Selbie said: ‘Britain needs to go on a diet. The simple truth is on average we need to eat less. Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and it’s why so many are overweight or obese.
‘Industry can help families by finding innovative ways to lower the calories in the food we all enjoy. It is not an attack on overweight folk, it is about getting more options and extending knowledge and more choices.’
The watchdog wants adults to eat no more than 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for dinner. This will allow them to have some snacks and drinks and still be well within the recommended daily limit of 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men.
The guidelines mean you could have a bowl of muesli and a low fat yoghurt for breakfast. Lunch could be a chicken salad sandwich and crisps. For dinner you could have two sausages and a small portion of mash.
The targets will cover High Street restaurants and fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Pizza Express and Subway. A Big Mac Meal with medium fries contains 845 calories (pictured)
But fish and chips would be off limits at 850 calories, as would a takeaway chicken tikka masala at 1,200 calories. Research shows the average adult is currently eating 300 calories more than they need each day while some children are consuming 500 calories too many.
Obesity rates in the UK are among the worst in Europe and two-thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese.
The food industry has been given voluntary targets by PHE to slash the calorie contents of 13 types of savoury, processed food. They include quiche, processed meat such as sausages, pies and burgers, ready-made pastas, as well as hummus, coleslaw and other dips. The targets are not mandatory, but PHE said it would resort to ‘other levers’ if manufacturers refused to take action.
The watchdog could decide to lobby the Government for compulsory calorie limits. It successfully called on ministers to impose a sugar tax on fizzy drinks which is coming into force at the beginning of next month.
Restaurants will have to slash their calorie content by a fifth by 2024. A meat pizza from Pizza Express has 842 calories (file photo)
The targets will cover High Street restaurants and fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Pizza Express and Subway.
A Big Mac Meal with medium fries contains 845 calories while a Sloppy Giuseppe – a meat pizza from Pizza Express – has 842. There are 503 in a Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt from Subway although crisps add an extra 170 calories, or a cookie 200 calories.
Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: ‘As a nation we are getting fatter and fatter as we age. We have an obesity epidemic here. We need to start advising consumers. We have more obese children in England than ever before. We have moved on from it affecting a small section of society, it is the norm now.
‘We will consider other levers if progress (from the food industry) is not good enough.’
She said the 400 calories for breakfast, and 600 each for lunch and dinner, was ‘a handy rule of thumb’, adding: ‘This is about having one number in your head when you buy your sandwich at lunchtime, one number in your head when you buy your regular breakfast that you grab on your way to work.’
Officials at PHE say that if the food industry hits its targets, 35,000 premature deaths will be avoided over the next 25 years and the NHS will save £9billion.
Some High Street chains including Boots and Starbucks will advertise healthy breakfast and lunch options which are within the calorie limits.
Last week figures revealed that the number of cases of diabetes had doubled in 20 years, largely due to obesity. There are now 3.7million adults in the UK living with the condition.
But Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said asking the nation to stick to 1,600 calories for their main meals was a ‘near starvation diet’.
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: ‘FDF and its members take their responsibility in tackling obesity seriously. For the last decade the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes.’