Reflections on The Calorie Reduction Summit

04 July, 2018

Leatherhead’s Jenny Arthur was delighted to speak at The Calorie Reduction Summit last week in a fabulously hot and sunny London. The main topics of conversation were the opportunities and challenges of calorie reduction. There was much debate about the newly-launched second phase of the childhood obesity plan, focusing on TV advertising to children, mandatory menu labelling and banning energy drink sales to children, which are all up for consultation. The active mile also featured, along with investing in cycling and walking to school. Scotland is also in the process of launching its Healthy Eating plan, which will be available later in the year.

Obesity levels in the UK are amongst the highest in Europe. In addition, UK consumers eat the most amount of pre-packaged food compared to their European neighbours. Portion size was therefore a key theme of the day, in particular for the academics.

Portion size

When looking at portion sizes on products, there is a great deal of discrepancy. For example, retailer pizzas vary in portion size, giving calorie ranges/portions of 300kcal to 600 kcal. It’s a similar story with crisp manufacturers, who offer different product formats with portion sizes varying from 25g to 40g, which equates to a difference of 200kcal. There are inconsistencies across all industry categories, which may explain why consumers are confused about how much they should be eating. This then begs the question – what size a portion do people think is normal?

Public Health England has suggested daily meal calorie targets of 400 calories for breakfast, 600 calories for lunch and 600 for dinner, with additional snacks. However these are difficult to achieve in the current food environment where portion sizes need to be reduced by 20% to meet these targets.

New guidance

The British Nutrition Foundation is launching new portion size guidance in Autumn 2018 to accompany the Eat Well plate, having reviewed guidance from Ireland, USA, Canada and Germany, which should help consumers and industry alike. There is a need to change what people think is a normal portion size or reduce the number of calories in existing portion sizes, which is where reformulation comes in. Academic research is beginning to show us that if you reduce the portion size but enhance the eating experience by provenance of ingredients and highlight the taste and flavour, consumers remain satisfied.

The reformulation debate – what are the options?

Reformulation is not easy and is technically challenging – consumers are looking for sugar reduction in tandem with calorie reduction, and increasingly consumers are demanding more from products in terms of health benefits. Reformulation can be achieved through using lower calorie ingredients, these can be carbohydrate, protein or fat-based replacers or a combination of replacers. Owing to the complexity of ingredient interaction, no one ingredient can provide instant calorie reduction, it’s about balancing the ingredients in the most effective way. The out-of-home sector is playing catch up to retailers and manufacturers, where addressing portion sizes and energy density of meals is in its infancy. Research has shown that when offering healthier meals in work cafeterias, the important factors to persuading people to eat the healthier choice are: portion size, availability and labelling.

Take-home message

Our take-home message from the day is that calorie reduction is more than just food – it’s also about how we think about and perceive food. Consumers still want to work hard and play hard, being careful about what they eat during the week so they can enjoy a treat at the weekend. However, it all comes down to how many calories they actually eat.

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