Big brands get responsible and sign up to calorie reductions.

As part of the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, seventeen companies, from snack foods to fast foods to soft drinks, have committed to reducing calories. More than three-quarters of the retail market have signed up.

In the ‘Call for Action on Obesity’, Andrew Lansley (MP) challenged the food industry to reduce calories by over 5 billion, the surprise is how many have responded.

The Department of Health says England has one of Europe’s highest obesity rates and that consuming too many calories is the cause of the problem. With growing obesity rates, especially in children due to poor fatty and sugar heavy diets, we are heading for a series health issue in our society.

Ironically, around 3 million people in the UK have a form of malnutrition due to eating processed foods that don’t contain enough nutrients (report by The British Association for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition).  In short, UK is in the middle of a serious food & drink crisis.

Meanwhile, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women aged 16 or over) in England are classified as obese.

Only this week obesity topped the media charts when 33 stone Sara Agintas hit the headlines and shocked readers by revealing that she was spending over £200 a week on takeaways, as well as eating a jar of pickled onions a day, followed by three packets of crisps, two large pork chops with veg for dinner followed by two Big Mac meals, washed down with beer. At one point she was eating eight tins of sausages a day

Rather than diet, like the rest of us would do, she wants a £14,000 operation to fit a gastric band. She commented, “I can’t work because I’m too fat to fit in an office chair and can only stand for two minutes at a time. I know it’s my fault I’m fat. I can’t afford a personal trainer or weight-loss surgery – I need help from the taxpayer.”

As part of the “calorie reduction pledge” brands have set themselves the following targets:

Tesco aims to reduce 1.8 billion calories from soft drinks. Plus reducing its Eat, Live & Enjoy range to no more than 500 calories a meal.

Asda is developing a new lower calorie range, with 30% less calories than products in its Chosen By You range.

Premier Foods (which includes Mr Kipling, Lyons, Hovis, Hartley’s, Robertsons, Batchelors and Ambrosia ) is aiming to cut calories across a third of it’s brands.

Subway, who have one of the most calorific sandwiches of all, is also cutting calories across its ranges.

The king of sweet drinks, Coca-Cola is planning to cut calories  across a range of soft drinks (which includes Powerade, Oasis, Dr Pepper, Lilt, Relentless, Fanta, Sprite and Kia Ora) by at least 30%.

Mars is aiming to cap all it’s chocolate bars to just 250 calories.

Other companies include Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Kerry Foods, Kraft, Nestle, PepsiCo (owners of Walkers), Unilever, Beefeater (Whitbread) and contract caterer Compass.

However, the Labour party have criticised the scheme, claiming it is not the change needed in the nation’s diet, recommending instead better food labelling and shielding children from adverts for junk food. (As usual, politicians blame advertising rather than parents.)

Surprisingly, England is better eaters than Scotland, Wales or Ireland. People in England eat more fruit and vegetables and less salt and fat, reducing heart disease and some cancers, according experts from the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford. Last year researchers estimated that more than 30,000 lives a year would be saved if everyone in the UK followed dietary guidelines on fat, salt, fibre, and fruit and vegetables.

The group are recommending bringing in food taxes like the fat tax brought in by the Danes, who have a tax on foods high in saturated fat. Other countries are also looking at taxing fizzy drinks or high-calorie foods.

Of course many cynics claim that paying lip service to reducing calories is easier than actually delivering it, some believing many will fall far short of their claims. For that we’ll have to wait and see.