The Health Secretary has made his point, particularly to chains such as Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, Starbucks and McDonald’s that they need to reduce the sugar content of sweets, such as puddings, cakes and croissants, and cut calories from fatty, savoury foods like burgers and pizza.
As part of an initiative to tackle Britain’s growing obesity problem, he told a private meeting of over 100 food companies that because eating out “is no longer a treat” they needed to be part of reforms to reduce the nation’s growing waistline.
Consumers will be able to check the companies’ efforts to be healthier on a government-run website, although exactly how they will be compared has not been decided.
This latest move follows a call to food producers being asked to cut sugar in key products by 20% over the next five years as part of an obesity strategy previously started under David Cameron, and a sugar tax on soft drinks, announced in March by then-Chancellor George Osborne, which is expected to come into force in April 2018.
At the private meeting, Hunt told food companies that “doing nothing was not an option” and warned: “You want to be on the right side of this debate.”
He said: “Going out to eat is no longer a treat. It’s a regular habit for many families and is contributing significantly to the extra calories and sugar that we all consume on a daily basis.
“We can’t ignore the changing habits of consumers. This means we expect the whole of the out-of-home sector – coffee shops, pubs and family restaurants, quick service restaurants, takeaways, cafes, contract caterers and mass catering suppliers – to step up and deliver on sugar reduction.”
The health secretary said that people are consuming more than a fifth of their sugar intake outside the home and a quarter of families took children to fast food outlets each week.
Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie told the meeting that a third of children leaving primary school are too fat, and a fifth of those are obese.
He said: “We need a level playing field. If the food and drink bought in cafés, coffee shops and restaurants does not also get reformulated and portions rethought then it will remain often significantly higher in sugar and bigger in portion than those being sold in supermarkets and convenience shops.”
“This will not help the overall industry to help us all make healthier choices.” He added