Targets to cut calories in foods popular with children such as pizzas, burgers and ready meals are to be set by Public Health England, as it announced it was set to examine evidence on children's calorie consumption.
Once the health body has looked at the evidence, it will detail its ambition for a calorie reduction programme to remove excess calories from food children consume the most, as it follows the next steps in its childhood obesity plan, it announced today.
The targets will be voluntary and the work will involve all of the food industry, in the same way as Public Health England's sugar reduction programme.
Currently, one-in-three children is either overweight or obese by the time it leaves primary school. Adults are estimated to consume on average between 200 and 300 too many calories each day, and children are following suit, according to Public Health England.
Following the launch of the childhood obesity plan a year ago, Public Health England said "real progress" had been made on reducing sugar in many products. Public Health England aims for a 20% reduction in sugar in key foods by 2020.
Philip Dunne, minister of state for health said: "Too many of our children are growing up obese, which can lead to serious health complications. We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: "A third of children leave primary school overweight or obese and an excess of calories - not just excess sugar consumption - is the root cause of this.
"We will work with the food companies and retailers to tackle this as the next critical step in combating our childhood obesity problem."
PHE will publish the evidence in early 2018 before consulting with the food industry, trade bodies and health NGOs to develop guidance and timelines for the calorie reduction programme.
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), representing the managed pub and casual dining industry, called for comprehensive industry engagement and reiterated the sector's work to date in promoting healthy attitudes to food.
ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls also called for clarity in the programme's stated objectives and the need for wider public engagement in helping to reduce calorie consumption, saying: "As evidenced by the sugar reduction programme, the eating and drinking out sector has long been playing its part to promote healthy attitudes to food. Crucial to continuing that, though is to ensure that blanket measures that increase pressures on businesses don't derail ongoing sector innovations to promote healthy lifestyles.
"The ALMR has consistently highlighted the fact that, for the vast majority of customers, eating out remains an occasional treat. Pubs and restaurants have worked hard to reformulate menus, to provide healthy options and provide more information to better inform customer choices.
"The stated aim is to reduce obesity in children, yet this early announcement is unclear as to how - if at all - any targeting would be manifested, so the ALMR looks forward to the publication of PHE's evidence package early next year. We remain committed to working closely with PHE to ensure that the efforts of the sector are recognised, that pubs and restaurants are fully aware of the action they will need to take, and to help efforts towards the thoroughly merited aims of reducing child obesity."
The British Hospitality Association (BHA) said it fully supported the government's ambition to combat childhood obesity, but to engage with the government's obesity plan, business needed "achievable goals, clarity, consistency and continuity of approach".
Ufi Ibrahim, CEO of the BHA, explained: "Our industry collectively serves an estimated 8.3 billion meals every year, so by leveraging the industry's expertise in restaurants and food service we can make real progress towards creating a healthier nation. For thousands of businesses across the country, from SMEs to large chains, clear simple processes are key. The BHA will continue to work with government to develop a comprehensive approach which promotes sensible outcomes for hospitality businesses and consumers."
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