Slashing of calories won’t work ‘unless food firms face sanctions’

But critics said the well-meaning scheme was unlikely to succeed without fines and levies for those who do not cooperate. The guidelines recommend firms reduce calories in takeaways and delivery meals by a fifth. Children's meal bundles should cut calories by 10 percent, along with retailers making ready meals, chips and garlic bread.

Crisps, savoury snacks and sandwiches have been set a five percent target, while the goal is 20 percent for pizza and pastry products.

New salt goals have also been published to encourage business to help reduce people's average intake from the current 8.4g per day, towards the recommended 6g.

Caroline Cerny, the leader of the Obesity Health Alliance, said it was vital the food industry helped tackle Britain's obesity epidemic.

She said: "It's much harder to eat healthily when so much of the food available to us is over-loaded with excess calories.

"Industry has been consulted extensively on these new targets so we expect them to step up and meet the targets on time and in full.

"But this is ultimately a voluntary programme, which is why we need the Government to commit to sanctions for companies that do not take the responsible approach such as fines and levies."

Tam Fry, the chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said voluntary programmes had repeatedly failed.

He said: "The Government is beginning to sound like a scratchy record. The only government measure to have been a success is the 2018 Sugary Drinks Industries Levy and it's still working because it's compulsory.

"The sooner we get similar bold and mandatory action with cutting calories, the sooner obesity will have a chance of being curbed."

PHE said voluntary guidelines were a key part of the UK's obesity strategy and even more vital now studies have shown that overweight people are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: "We can all do our bit to stay healthy, to help protect us from coronavirus and take pressure off the NHS. "The food industry can play its part, by making it as easy as possible for everyone to eat more healthily. These guidelines will help them take positive action."

Dr Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist for PHE, said: "This is about broadening choice for consumers, as well as making the healthier choice the easy choice.

"Progress on sugar and salt reduction has shown this can happen without compromising taste."

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