Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have broadened their diet policy to include a 20% reduction of calories in certain foods by 2024 in an effort to tackle obesity in the UK.

Regulators previously focused on cutting sugar and salt in food products.

PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone said: “The 20% reduction target is the result of analysis of the new calorie consumption data, experience of sugar and salt reduction programmes, and more than 20 meetings with the food industry and stakeholders.”​

PHE data released on 6 March shows that overweight children consume between 290-500 extra calories over the daily recommended guidelines and adults consume 200-300 extra calories on average.

The new ‘One You’ campaign by PHE advises adults to eat no more than 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories for lunch and dinner.

“The simple truth is on average we need to eat less. Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and it’s why so many are overweight or obese,”​said PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie. “Industry can help families by finding innovative ways to lower the calories in the food we all enjoy and promoting UK business leadership on the world stage in tackling obesity.”​

PHE and DHSC estimates showed that the NHS spends around £6bn per year on tackling obesity-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and related cancers.

Policy makers are calling on the food industry to reformulate products to adhere to the calorie count reduction, particularly in processed foods such as pizzas, ready meals, meat products and snacks.

The government estimated that if the 2024 target was successful, it could prevent more than 35,000 premature deaths, and save the NHS £9bn over the next 25 years.

UK Public Health and Social Care Minister Steve Brine said: “Our calorie reduction programme – the first of its kind from any country in the world – will continue to build on the progress of our world-leading childhood obesity plan, which has led to positive steps by industry.”

The Food and Drink Federation supported the new target, with director-general Ian Wright commenting: “It’s encouraging too to see that the government’s renewed focus looks not just at the food and drink bought for consumption at home, but also at takeaways, restaurants and cafés.”

“To be successful in improving the nation’s health, it is also vital that this work delivers appropriate, clear and easily understandable calorie messages for shoppers and consumers.”

This support was reinforced by campaigners at Action on Sugar who praised the government’s ambition but remained sceptical over the implementation process.

​Health campaigners at Action on Sugar also applauded the ambition of the government’s announcement but questioned how the 20% reduction target would be monitored and enforced.

“In order for it to be successful, it is imperative that the 20% calorie reduction targets are properly enforced and transparent,” said Action on Sugar chairman Graham McGregor.

“We also need clear guidance from government on what will happen if the food industry fails to comply, as it is vital that the industry is given a level-playing field and all companies, both retail and out of home, fully cooperate.”