Food reformulation could significantly help to reduce calorie density in food and the number of people with obesity in the UK by 2030, according to a new report from innovation charity Nesta.
According to the findings, around 38 calories per person per day could be removed from people’s diets if certain food categories reduced the number of calories in their products by 10%.
In order to halve the number of people with obesity in the UK by 2030, the charity says men need to cut out 165 calories per day from their diet, while women need to cut 115.
To have the biggest impact on calorie consumption, Nesta recommends the following food categories should be prioritised for reformulation: ambient cakes and pastries, chocolate confectionary, biscuits such as plain and chocolate digestives, custard creams, jaffa cakes and cookies and savoury pastries. It also includes morning foods like croissants and crumpets, salad condiments, chilled ready meals, crisps, and chilled cakes like cheesecake.
The charity says all these foods can be described as ‘discretionary foods’ as they provide little to no nutritional value.
The report also recommends that food manufacturers should be encouraged to prioritise the reformulation of their main default items instead of creating two separate products. Where this isn’t possible, the low-calorie alternative should be made as readily available as possible across all stores.
More transparency, accountability and parity is also essential across the food sector, says Nesta, as progress and good or poor performance is currently hard to track due to a lack of sufficient public data. The charity recommends implementing obligatory calorie reduction targets for specific food categories, as well as developing a strong data infrastructure that mandates the public reporting of public health metrics and food reformulation targets to help businesses track progress. An organisation and/or professional body should also be allowed to design, set and change the targets as they see fit, and they should be able to put penalties in place or fines for companies that fail to comply.
Risk and upfront investment are also major barriers in food reformulation, according to the charity. These issues could be solved by introducing a range of fiscal incentives, it says. It also recommends the Government brings in some non-financial incentives, including developing badging or ranking systems to help brands better communicate their healthy products to consumers. Other fiscal initatives similar to the salt and sugar tax could also help to create a level playing field for businesses.
Nesta’s Future of Food: opportunities to improve health through reformulation report was conducted using a mixture of interviews with food industry representatives and public health stakeholders, expert insight from food product development consultancy Bingham and Jones, and Nesta analysis of at-home food and drink purchases for over 29,000 households across Great Britain, based on data provided by an international market research group.