Ministers launch drive to eliminate five billion calories a day from the nation's diet

Ministers launched a bid to slash five billion calories – equivalent to five Olympic-sized swimming pools of cola – from the nation's daily diet yesterday by urging people to eat and drink less.

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Andrew Lansley said cutting calories was essential to reverse Britain's soaring obesity levels. More than 60 per cent of adults and a third of 11-year-olds are obese or overweight.

But the Health Secretary was attacked by medical organisations for rejecting regulatory action to control the food and drink industry or measures such as a "fat tax" to reduce consumption of calorie-dense foods. Announcing a "national ambition" to reverse the rising tide of obesity by 2020, Mr Lansley said it would be achieved through individual action, local authority interventions and voluntary initiatives by businesses to reduce calories and help consumers choose less fattening items. He said "more progress has been made more quickly" through voluntary agreements such as the Responsibility Deal with food and drink manufacturers than would have been managed through legislation.

That analysis was rejected by Diane Abbott, the shadow Public Health minister, who branded the obesity strategy "pathetic". "It makes no sense to me that companies that spend billions of pounds every year peddling fizzy drinks and trans-fat-loaded food are seriously going to eat into their profits by trying to change the public's eating habits." New calculations by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition show people are on average eating 10 per cent more calories than they need and should cut their intake by 100 calories a day.

Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said this was equivalent to 16 dry roasted peanuts, containing six calories each. "This report aims to reduce daily calorie consumption by five billion calories which may grab headlines but is actually peanuts. The plan has no clear measures on how the food and drink industry will be made to be more "responsible" in their aggressive marketing of unhealthy food." Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: "The smoking ban has demonstrated how changing the law can save thousands of lives. The Government must use the law as well as 'nudge' techniques to create a culture that makes it easy for people to make healthy choices and consume fewer calories."