Asking processed food firms to cut calories voluntarily hasn't worked

Stephen French/Alamy: Voluntary goals to reduce the calorie and sugar content of food do not seem to work.It doesn't work to encourage food manufacturers to reduce the amount of calories, sugar and salt in their products. This is according to an analysis that looked at the nutritional content of foods and beverages sold in English supermarkets in 2015 and 2018.Public Health England, an agency of the government, has established voluntary targets to reduce the amount of calories, sugar, and salt in processed foods sold throughout the country over the years. These voluntary targets were established in order to encourage manufacturers to modify the nutritional content of their products, rather than force them into reformulations.Lauren Bandy and her Oxford colleagues have now evaluated the impact of the targets.AdvertisementBandy says that we found little change. We could only see a change in soft drinks.She says that the soft drink changes could be due to the UK tax on sugary drinks, which was introduced in 2018.Researchers observed a slight increase in the number products that the UK government deemed healthy based on their nutritional profile. This was from 46% in 2015 to 47% in 2018. The sale of healthy products increased from 44% in 2015 to 51% in 2018. These sales rose from 44% in 2015 to 51% in 2018, owing to the 2018 tax's sugar reductions.Stuart Gillespie, International Food Policy Research Institute Washington DC, states that carrots and sticks are needed when trying to tackle the UK's obesity-generating food environment. However, when it comes down to large food items, the stick is more effective in the form a tax that the government mandates.The products that the team examined were not from supermarkets but came from several food and beverage companies.Elizabeth Dunford, from the George Institute for Global Health in Australia, said that some research has shown that private-label brands are often healthier than their branded counterparts.Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0254833