What to expect from PHE’s upcoming calorie-reduction campaign

Public Health England is springing into action this March with several new initiatives to counter unhealthy eating.

29 January 2018
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image credit: samael334/iStock/Thinkstock

Meet the Expert

Who: Dr. Laura Wyness

What: Independent registered nutritionist


This spring, our calorie consumption will be brought (perhaps discomfortingly) into focus, with the launch of Public Health England’s (PHE) calorie campaign. Speculation of what this might include has already been reported in some news articles, but what can we actually expect?

No change to daily calorie guidelines

First of all, there is no change to the daily calorie guidelines, contrary to what some recent media headlines have suggested. Government dietary guidelines, which have been established for decades, state that women should aim to consume 2,000 calories a day from food and drink, while men should aim for 2,500 calories.  

Getting the right ratios

The principle that has guided catering for many years when developing meals is the 20:30:30:20 ratio. That is, on average, 20% of daily energy and nutrients should come from breakfast, 30% from lunch, 30% from dinner and 20% from all other snacks and drinks throughout the day.

PHE are using this ratio to guide people on the calories to aim for at each meal and when eating on the go. In practice, this means around 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch, 600 for dinner and 400 from drinks and snacks throughout the day.

No cap on pre-prepared meals

Despite the claims in some newspapers, the upcoming campaign is not calling for a calorie cap on meals in fast-food chains or in supermarket ready meals. However, PHE is due to expand the current sugar reduction programme. This will include targets to reduce calories in a wide range of product categories and across all sectors, including fast food and takeaways. 

With more than a quarter (27.1%) of adults and a fifth of children eating food from out-of-home food outlets at least once a week, according to PHE, it is an important area to focus on when addressing the rising obesity levels. 

Working with industry

Meals eaten outside of the home tend to be associated with higher intakes of calories, fat and salt. However, some consumers are looking for healthier options when dining out too, with 3 in 10 saying they would eat out more often if healthier options were more available, research by IGD shows. The food industry charity noted that health is a common driver when choosing meals or snacks out of home.

High-street food chains can implement a variety of changes to encourage better eating choices, suggests PHE. These include reducing the price of healthier foods, increasing the availability and promotion of healthier options, reducing portion sizes and increasing the content of fruit, vegetables and fibre in meals, as well as putting calorie information on menus. 

Many of these changes will be cost-neutral or may even have a positive impact on profit margins, and PHE are keen to work with food business to identify where positive changes could be made to increase the availability and accessibility of healthier options for the consumer.  

Calorie-smart consumers

The calorie campaign aims to help consumers become ‘calorie smart,’ with relevant advice being highlighted as part of the ‘One You’ campaign aimed at adults. The calorie guides should help consumers become more aware of the amount of calories to aim for at meals. However, focus should also be given to the nutrient content of food.

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