Urgent action need on food portion sizes: charity

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hard to swallow? The government should update its advice on portion sizes: BHF
Hard to swallow? The government should update its advice on portion sizes: BHF

Related tags: Portion sizes, Nutrition

The government should update its advice on food portion sizes urgently, warns a leading charity, after researchers advised smaller food packages could help to cut Britain’s obesity crisis. 

The current, outdated advice on portion sizes was misleading consumers, a spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“Portion sizes in the UK are often inconstant and misleading and we need to take control,”​ she said. “It’s important we get portion sizes on products right, because when people are presented with more food, they eat more food.”

Responsibility for this lack of advice fell squarely on the government, she said. “The UK government has not updated its information on typical portion sizes for 20 years and there is currently no legislation relating to portion sizes.

‘Time for an urgent review’

“It’s time for an urgent review so the portion size playing field is leveled and consumers can be helped to make healthier choices.”

The comments followed research from Cambridge University published this week (September 15) linking obesity, portion size and food packaging.

The researchers claimed to have produced “the most conclusive evidence to date”​ that people consume more food or non­alcoholic drinks, when offered larger­sized portions or when they use larger items of tableware.

Cutting out larger­sized portions from the diet could reduce energy intake by up to 16% among UK adults or 29% among US adults, concluded the researchers in a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Government ‘must act’

“The UK government has not updated its information on typical portion sizes for 20 years ...”.

  • British Heart Foundation

British Retail Consortium

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its members had already acted to cut portion sizes.

BRC deputy director of food policy Andrea Martinez-Inchausti told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “BRC members welcome the report from Cambridge University highlighting that product presentation is linked to consumption levels.

“In the absence of standardised portion sizes, retailers have been working together to come up with criteria to establish appropriate portions; these include maximum quantities of certain nutrients, calorie caps, feedback from consumers and other products in the market. Through their commitment to reduce calories, retailers have reduced portion sizes in a number of products.”

Co-­leader of the research Ian Shemilt said the current system was geared to encourage over eating. “At the moment, it is all too easy – and often better value for money – for us to eat or drink too much,”​ he said.

“The evidence is compelling​ now that actions that reduce the size, availability and appeal of large servings can make a difference to the amounts people eat and drink …”.

Shemilt added that he hoped the findings will provide fresh impetus for discussions on how to reduce portion sizes in a range of public sector and commercial settings.

British Retail Consortium's response

“In the absence of standardised portion sizes, retailers have been working together to come up with criteria to establish appropriate portions; these include maximum quantities of certain nutrients, calorie caps, feedback from consumers and other products in the market. Through their commitment to reduce calories, retailers have reduced portion sizes in a number of products.”

  • Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, BRC

Related topics: Science, Reformulation

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