Should Britain go on a diet?

29th Mar 2018

According to Public Health England (PHE), Britain needs to go on a diet. In its latest drive to reduce the levels of obesity, and improve the nation’s health, PHE is encouraging the public to count and control its calories.

The number of people overweight or obese in the UK has risen significantly in the past two decades and whilst numbers seem to have plateaued in more recent years, there does not seem to be any reduction in the numbers of children and adults who are significantly overweight.

A lot of this has to do with consuming too many calories – research by PHE estimates that some children eat between 290 and 500 unnecessary calories every day, the equivalent of an extra meal. PHE wants people to be more aware of the number of calories in their food by calorie counting and advises as a general rule – 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories for lunch and 600 for dinner.

In addition to asking the public to count calories, PHE is asking the food industry (including fast-food outlets, supermarkets, restaurants and food manufacturers), to make reductions in portion sizes. They hope that the food industry will respond with a target of reducing calories in their produce by around 20% by 2024. By targeting the portion sizes of some of the nation’s most popular meals, such as ready meals, pizzas, savoury snacks, processed meats and take away meals it is hoped the nations calorie intake will be reduced – as recent research has suggested that up to a quarter of food is now bought from cafes, restaurants or as food to go from shops.

At the moment the call to cut the calorie content of ready-made foods is voluntary but PHE says it will monitor the progress of the food manufacturers and seek legislation from the Government if the industry does not try to include more healthy ingredients in its produce and offer more healthy alternatives.

The rates of obesity in children are of particular concern; nearly 1 in 10 children aged 4-5 years old are obese with 13% overweight, this rises to 2 in 10 being obese and 14% overweight by the time they leave primary school aged 10-11 (source PHE). Many experts believe this is due to consuming too many calories – the number of calories a child needs depends on their age and activity levels but a four-year-old should consume no more than 1,300, while for males aged 17 and 18 it is about 3,000, but overweight and obese children are consuming up to 500 calories more than they need a day. For adults, it is recommended that women should eat no more than 2,000 calories a day, while men should limit their intake to 2,500.

Rachel Kayani

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