Britain's food industry was challenged by the government Tuesday to reduce the amount of calories in products used by families by 20 percent as part of a new strategy to cut childhood and adult obesity.
Health officials say if the 20 percent target is met within 5 years, more than 35,000 premature deaths could be prevented, and around 12.5 billion U.S. dollars in National Health Service (NHS) healthcare and social care costs could be saved over a 25 year period.
The calorie drive follows new evidence revealing overweight or obese boys and girls consume up to 500 and 290 calories too many each day respectively.
The food industry has been given three ways to reduce calories, changing the recipe of products, reducing portion sizes or encouraging consumers to purchase lower calorie products.
Categories of food covered by the program include pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, meat products and savoury snacks.
The new major steps to cut excessive calorie intake were unveiled by Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
PHE says too many children and most adults are overweight or obese, suffering consequences from bullying and low self-esteem in childhood, to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers as adults.
"An obese parent is more likely to have an obese child, who in turn is more likely to grow up into an obese adult," said PHE.
A PHE report includes new data on children's daily calorie consumption. Depending on their age, overweight and obese boys consume between 140 to 500 calories too many each day and for girls, it is 160 to 290 when compared to those with healthy body weights. Adults consume on average 200 to 300 calories too many each day.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: "Industry can help families by finding innovative ways to lower the calories in the food we all enjoy and promoting UK business leadership on the world stage in tackling obesity.
Steve Brine, parliamentary under secretary of state for public health and primary care, said: "Obesity is now one of our greatest challenges, one that is fuelling an epidemic of preventable illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cancer. These not only shorten lives but put unsustainable pressure on our health service."
. "Our calorie reduction program, the first of its kind from any country in the world, will continue to build on the progress of our world-leading childhood obesity plan, which has led to positive steps by industry."
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: "It's hard for people to make healthy food choices. That's why we are challenging the food industry to take 20 percent of the calories out of everyday foods."
The NHS spends around 8.3 billion U.S dollars a year treating obesity-related conditions.