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War on Choice: UK Government Sets ‘Calorie Cap’ for Pizzas, Burgers… Even Soup

MIRAMAR, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Terry Cheung prepares a pizza pie to be served to students at Everglades High School on November 18, 2011 in Miramar, Florida. Monday evening the United States Congress passed a spending bill with a provision that would allow schools to count pizza as a vegetable. …
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Restaurants and supermarkets have been told to shrink pizzas or remove toppings under “drastic” new government plans to calorie cap thousands of foods sold in the UK.

Draft guidelines unveiled by Public Health England (PHE) would see recommended calorie limits set for regularly consumed items including sandwiches, cooking sauces, pies, soups, and processed meats, the Daily Telegraph reports.

While the limits would not be mandatory under current plans, which are part of a package aimed at reducing childhood obesity, the government has warned it would likely legislate if businesses failed to fall into line, with public health minister Steve Brine declaring the state was “willing to do whatever it takes to keep children healthy and well in this country”.

The majority of pizzas and pies available at popular chain restaurants in Britain currently would fall foul of the 928 calorie and 695 calorie limits outlined, respectively, in the guidelines, according to The Times, which named Sizzling Pubs’ Lentil and Parsnip Cottage Pie as a dish that would make the (calorie) cut demanded by the government.

Some ministers including the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, have voiced opposition to the interventionist, anti-free market drive to change the public’s eating habits by the so-called Conservative Party, which recently brought in an unpopular “sugar tax” — the likes of which, researchers point out, penalise the poor and have never reduced obesity anywhere.

But Eustace de Souza, national lead for children at PHE, highlighted figures showing the proportion of children leaving primary school classed as ‘severely obese’ having risen to 4.2 percent, from 3.2 percent in 2006/7, to insist: “This shows why the government is taking drastic action; there are no grounds for complacency.”

PHE chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, said the calorie content of almost every food that Britons eat must be cut in order to drive down obesity levels, telling The Telegraph: “It could mean less meat on a pizza, it could mean less cheese, it could mean a smaller size. Consumers are saying they want smaller portions and healthier options.”

“We know that just having healthy options on the menu won’t change the nation’s habits — we need the default option to have fewer calories. The default options for pizzas are margherita and pepperoni pizzas, so we need them to get healthier.”

Director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Christopher Snowdon, on Thursday likened the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’, against which the government is fighting with a war on consumer choice, to the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Mocking the frequent claim by public health campaigners, echoed by Tedstone to The Telegraph, that interventions such as calorie caps somehow increase consumer choice, he highlighted on Twitter a selection of social media posts in which British people expressed anger and frustration over the “ruining” of some of their favourite foods, under government health policies.

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