Did anyone see this headline the other day?
It was reported on the BBC here.
We are all eating too much as a nation
There are some surprising and some shocking facts in this report. There are also some recommendations I find rather questionable.
Obesity, apparently, costs the NHS £6Billion a year. That is a lot of money.
It is also a rather curious statistic to lead with, don’t you think? The fiscal cost, rather than the cost in lives, in health terms?
But anyway, we can all agree the obesity issue is a problem.
As part of a drive to reduce calorie intake by 20% by 2024, Public Health England is targeting food manufacturers, supermarkets, fast-food outlets etc to reduce the calorie content of a whole raft of foodstuffs, mostly the obvious targets like pizza, burgers, crisps and ready meals, but also ciabatta with olives, egg products, soup and crackers. Oh, and rice and noodles.
Are the calories in soup a significant contributor to obesity?
More to the point, how exactly do you reduce the calories in rice? Rice is rice. And rice is only overly calorific if you eat too much of it. Which is the issue with most of the items on the list: I get how the calorie content of a typical ready meal or, say, a Big Mac could be reduced and the consumer would eat fewer calories having one as a meal. But rice? Eggs? If somehow farms do manage to produce a lower calorie egg, I will just eat 4 eggs instead of 3 in my omelette. Which is really the crux of the problem: reduce the calories in bags of crisps and people will just buy more bags of crisps. Or they will buy the big family pack and have one of those each. A bag of chip shop chips contains about 950 calories (yes!). That is, admittedly, a lot. But chips are chips. You can’t really reduce the calories in a potato and you can’t reduce the calories in deep frying. So the only way to reduce the calories in a bag of chips by 20% is by putting 20% fewer chips in the bag.
PHE will be putting pressure on the big food chains to comply with these regulations, with the threat of legislation if they do not comply (what legislation? The maximum chips in a bag law?). I can’t see it being a problem. Put 20% fewer chips in the portion and suddenly the Super Size me portion becomes about the size the regular portion used to be and the consumer will go large. And McDonalds will increase their revenue. Winning.
The legislation to tackle the amount of sugar in foods makes sense. It is easily police, a levy will make the manufacturers use less suagr and all the stealth sugar in the bread and beans and so on will come down. Making manufacturers put fewer calories in a packet will just make people buy more packets, because they will still want to eat the same number of calories as before.
So how many calories should we be eating, according to Public Health England?
Well, we should be having 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for supper. Women should eat no more than 2000 calories and men no more than 2500. That’s it. Blanket.
So we have 1600 calories from our meals and women have anywhere from that to 2000, while men have up to another 900 to play with. Age, height, activity level etc have no bearing on the matter. It makes no difference if you are are 50 year old, 5’2″ sedentary office worker or a 24 year old 6’2″ Crossfitting Royal Marine.
Do I need to point out how asinine this is?
Yes, I know they are ‘providing guidelines for the general populace, but the guidelines are not really very good ones – my daily maintenance calories are around 2800-3000 – the whole concept encourages people not to take responsibility for their own nutrition choices by understanding what their calorie requirements are. It is the very opposite of empowerment (is there an antonym for empowerment? unempower?). It is the exact kind of miseducation that got us into this obesity crisis in the first place.
The obesity issue is a real problem, but until people are able to understand what they should be eating, and how much and why, no amount of smaller plates or smaller packets are going to solve it.