WATCH out Britain, you’re going on a diet! And with Australia’s obesity rates very similar to that of the United Kingdom, we probably need to pay attention to new recommendations.
Public Health England has suggested the average daily calorie intake be cut by 20 per cent in an attempt to reduce the estimated $9 billion future cost of obesity and up to 35,000 premature deaths.
This is serious stuff. Basically they’re telling the whole country to go on a diet.
A report published on Tuesday by Public Health England (an agency of the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care) recommends that calorie intake be specifically targeted and the powerful food industry challenged to develop lower calorie foods to make weight control easier for the average person.
The recommendations were based on the fact that while current advice is for adults to consume between 2000 and 2500 calories each day, it is known that the average person puts away 200 to 300 calories more than this every day, hence the rising rate of obesity.
As such there are calls for calorie intakes to be slashed, to just 1600 calories per day, or 400 calories at breakfast and 600 at both lunch and dinner, and a clear focus on three square meals each day.
With an average fast food or cafe meal containing at least 800 calories, the food industry has become a key stakeholder to make this outcome achievable.
These recommendations are of specific interest for Australia since we have danced around the concept of calorie control for many years. Recommendations to ‘eat less and move more’, or ‘make healthy choices’ are simply not getting through.
The food labelling of percentage daily intake of energy intake has been a dismal failure with the average Aussie having no idea how many calories or kilojoules they need, let alone how to bring individual foods together into a daily regimen that supports weight control.
Bold moves must be made.
Put most simply, we — like the Brits — eat far too much.
While 1600 calories may sound like a lot, in reality most of us blow this out with the few extra Tim Tams, or Thai takeaway we pick up on the way home after a long day.
In addition, our snacks become meals and since most of us spend the day sitting down, we are simply burning nowhere near the number of calories old estimates of calorie requirements are based on. Something has to change and perhaps clear guidance on calorie intake is all that is required.
For too long we have been scared that the mere mention of the word calorie counting or control will send children and adult dieters into a spin, yet now we have a growing issue that so many of us are overweight we see it as normal.
But obesity is not normal, and the health and psychological costs of overweight and obesity far outweigh the risks of the average person becoming obsessed with counting calories. We simply need to learn to eat less, that some foods have too many calories and we need to roughly stick to our calorie requirements to avoid weight gain over time.
An important aspect of this recommendation is working with food industry on family friendly meals. As it stands, family favourites such as pizza, pre-made sandwiches or salads, and on the go snacks are generally far more calorie dense than we need them to be.
As such, Public Health England is encouraging food manufactures and retail outlets to improve the recipes of their foods, reduce portion sizes and develop lower calorie options to help make calorie control easier for the average person.
So what does a day of 400:600:600 calorie eating look like? Surprise, surprise you get to actually eat a lot, if you make good choices.
2 eggs, 1 slice toast, 1 Latte = 400 calories
Tuna, 2 slices bread, 1 piece of fruit, 1 slice of cheese, salad = 600 calories
1 cup pasta, 100g mince sauce, mixed salad, 1 tbsp. dressing, 1 glass of wine = 600 calories
Where we go wrong is when we order toast at the cafe which has loads of butter and made using Turkish bread, a tuna sandwich from a cafe with lashings of avocado and mayo and a serve of pasta three times what we should be eating when we order food online.
We may not like talking about calories and we may not want to but the reality is we are going to have to if we want to get our weight and the costs of obesity down in this country.
The UK is realising it, how long Australia will take is anyone’s guess.
Susie Burrell, Associate Editor