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Will the Government's 'calorie challenge' place undue pressure on the industry?

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Will the Government's 'calorie challenge' place undue pressure on the industry?

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In light of government research indicating a rise in obesity in both children and adults in the UK, new plans have been revealed by Public Health England to cut calorie consumption by 20%. The campaign calls for the food industry to reduce calories in 13 food groups while signposting guests to healthier options to ensure they are more calorie-aware when dining out.

Pressure on the industry

According to NHS data, 26% of adults were recorded as clinically obese during 2016. It is hoped that if the 20% target is met within the next five years, "more than 35,000 premature deaths could be prevented and around £9bn in NHS healthcare and social care costs could be saved over a 25 year period".

However, while the aim of the campaign is laudable, industry body UKHospitality has voiced concerns that the strategy could "place undue pressure on businesses".

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the industry body, told The Caterer: "The hospitality industry has a long track record of promoting healthy lifestyle through reformulating recipes, offering healthier options; and reducing sugar, salt, fat and calories in meal options... The new calorie reduction programme will, too, be a tough ask for many within the catering industry because, unlike retailers and manufacturers, menus and recipes come in all shapes and sizes.

"There is also a question surrounding cost for hospitality operators... With severe pressure on hospitality businesses across the board, demonstrated by recent restaurant closures, now is not the time to put further stress on operators to meet targets."

UKHospitality further called on the government and Public Health England to focus on nutrition and physical exercise in schools and better education around food and nutrition for families, rather than placing the onus solely on the food industry.

Calorie counts on menus - will they work?

One way in which operators can support the government strategy and help guests become more calorie-aware is by including calorie counts on menus. A new study, published by the Cochrane Review, revealed that adding calorie information to restaurant menus reduces how much diners eat by 12%. However, it was concluded that further studies are necessary to find out how effective this reduction is in terms of impacting weight management and health.

In short, tackling obesity is a complex issue and should not rest solely on the shoulders of the food industry. However, by ensuring transparency in well-designed menus, operators can offer guests greater autonomy when it comes to making the decision between a healthy choice or a treat meal.

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