Dr Susan Jebb, food network chair on building momentum in the calorie reduction marathon

Susan JebbI am delighted that we have now announced the first group of companies who will lead the way on calorie reduction.  Importantly, this includes a broad range of businesses from the retailing, manufacturing and out of home sectors.  This collective effort is a crucial first step towards supporting and enabling people to achieve the five billion calorie reduction challenge set out by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in the Call to Action on Obesity.

With around two-thirds of adults overweight or obese, the Responsibility Deal moves beyond thinking of obesity as a problem just for individuals. Instead, it recognises the burden obesity also places on business and society at large.  Obesity costs – individuals, communities, businesses, and the wider economy.

The calorie reduction pledge is the outcome of months of discussions with business, public health professionals and civil society groups to facilitate collective action to reshape the food environment.  It will act in synergy with other initiatives, including Change4Life, which continues to provide people with the information they need to make healthier choices.

Delivering this pledge will be a marathon, not a sprint.  But the first tranche of early signatories is promising, displaying a broad range of commitments to encourage behaviour change to reduce calorie intake.  Some include very specific actions, but for many companies this pledge has stimulated a new ‘calorie consciousness’ and their commitments represent the start of a broad portfolio of actions. This work will develop over the coming years and embed calorie reduction, alongside salt reduction, as the key targets to reduce diet-related ill-health.

The pledge provides companies with a diverse range of opportunities to take action, including technical changes to reduce fat and sugar, or innovations to offer healthier options in some categories of food.  Business is also superbly placed to deploy the full range of its commercial and marketing acumen, including carefully calibrated portion size changes, incentive schemes, and other “nudge” strategies to guide and encourage us all, to consume fewer calories.

In the current economic climate some might think this just isn’t a priority.  But a sustainable business needs to take the long view.  Good public health means a healthier workforce, less sickness absence and improved productivity. Tackling obesity is crucial for the health and wealth of business and the wider economy.

I really value these early commitments, but if we are to realise our goals, this action must be seen as just the start of a bigger, broader commitment across the food industry – all sectors, all sizes.  My focus will now be on building momentum and engaging with a more diverse range of companies, especially those who have not made a commitment.  We need everyone to take this challenge for the sake of the nation’s health.

I have confidence in the capabilities of the food industry to deliver against their early commitments.  I look forward to working with a growing range of businesses to inject real drive and ambition and to develop this programme of work into something we can all be proud of – good for business and good for public health.

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