Conflicts of InterestObesity

Britain needs to go on a diet says Public Health England

Back in October 2011, England announced a new obesity ‘strategy’. I blogged on it here. The three key proposals were:

1) That the Chief Medical Officer, who was then and is now, Dame Sally Davies, called for everyone to be more honest about their eating and drinking habits – so, not only are we greedy and lazy, we are now liars too!

2) We were told to “slash” five billion calories a day. If the population of England approximates to 50 million people, that’s 100 fewer calories per person per day.

3) The recommended calorie intakes for men and women were increased! Yes – you read that right. At the same time as telling us we’re greedy, lazy, liars who need to eat less, the calorie intakes were increased from 2,550 to 2,605 for men and from 1,940 to 2,079 for women.

Since then, there have been various other obesity initiatives emanating from the English health bodies. Lazy Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to follow England. In January 2015, Public Health England launched a sugar swap programme. Swap a muffin for a teacake, kind of thing. In March 2016, Public Health England updated the eatbadly plate to make it an eatbadly guide. In August 2016 we had a 14 point action plan for childhood obesity.  No, I can’t remember any of them either.  Recently, Public Health England (PHE) have become more and more calorie obsessed and then, yesterday, they went full on eating disorder by announcing that Britain needs to go on a diet.

The press release is here. The key bits of non-sense are:

1) PHE wants to “challenge the food industry to reduce calories in products consumed by families by 20% by 2024.” Oooh – food industry – consider yourself challenged! PHE has picked 13 categories of junk food, which they want the food industry to sell in smaller portions (same price, bigger margin, people might eat two – not a tough challenge!):

 savoury biscuits and crackers;
 speciality breads, such as ciabatta with olives;
 cooking sauces and dressings;
 crisps and savoury snacks;
 egg products;
 potato products;
 meat products, such as pies, pastries, sausages and burgers;
 pasta, rice and noodles;
 ready meals and takeaways;
 dips;
 pizza;
 food-to-go, such as sandwiches;
 soups.

2) As if 5-a-day isn’t enough and 8 glasses of water and however many grams of fiber and a similarly made up number of grams of salt and… and… we now have some more made up numbers: 400/600/600. There’s a new 400 calorie limit for breakfast, you can have 600 calories for lunch and another 600 for dinner. Doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympic cyclist or a 100lb woman in a care home.

So what was wrong with PHE’s latest initiative?

The executive summary is this tweet, which I did c. 24 hrs ago:

The longer version is:

1) It’s yet another piece of advice without evidence base emanating from an official government body.

Since Benedict (1917), Ancel Keys (1950), Stunkard & McLaren Hume (1959), Marion Franz (2007), and with many more in between, calorie deficit diets have been studied. There is no evidence that they work long term. This study was particularly damning. People tend to lose weight in the very short term, regain it and often more.  Then they go on another calorie controlled diet, lose weight, regain it and often more. It’s a fantastic model for slimming companies and low-fat fake food; it’s a disaster for human health.

2) PHE thinks that a press release can override 3.5 million years of evolution.

We have been hard wired to eat more and do less, PHE thinks that we can flick a switch and do the opposite just like that. PHE seems to have no understanding of what happens when people start a calorie deficit diet (see the Minnesota Starvation Experiment – the same 1,600 calorie intake recommended by PHE). We get hungry, we want to eat more, we want to do less, we become obsessed with food, we get crabby and irritable (we all know the person in the office on a calorie-controlled diet, right?!) We cannot sustain hunger for days/weeks let alone years/a lifetime.

3) This announcement doesn’t care about quality of food – just quantity.

I did 16 radio interviews on this story yesterday. Most of the presenters were far more sensible than PHE on the topic. One said – so we can just eat 1,600 calories of sweets then? Why not? Tell people to eat fewer calories and they will make poor food choices. In the effort to get the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ – the most food for the fewest calories –  grazing on a 100 calorie packet of sweets seems like a good idea. Better still, graze on diet drinks all day long. Processed food comes with calories on the packet (along with 50 unrecognisable ingredients listed). It’s thus easier to count calories by eating things in packets than to go to the butcher, fishmonger or even greengrocer. Calorie counters eat more sugar, more carbs, more low-fat fake food. This is terrific advice to get England to be sicker, as well as fatter.

4) PHE is contemptible for its cosy bed-fellow: the processed food industry.

When that March 2016 eatbadly guide was issued, I discovered that PHE had put together the who’s who of the fake food industry to assemble official dietary guidelines for England: The Institute of Grocery Distribution; The British Nutrition Foundation (don’t be fooled by the name – it’s another ‘who’s who of the fake food industry); The British Retail Consortium; and The Food & Drink Federation. Plus The Association of Convenience Stores – the voice of 33,500 local shops – which has previously opposed steps to curtail cigarette consumption, so not really interested in public health.

You couldn’t make it up. I blogged on it here and the BJSM published an editorial on it here. This latest stunt shows that the PHE/junk food love-in is as strong as ever.

5) PHE believes the calorie theory. They think that if Brits create a 3,500 calorie deficit, they will lose 1lb of fat. If only!

They can’t prove it, but then they can’t prove any of the stuff that they come out with.

What should PHE have announced instead?

Three words: EAT REAL FOOD!

If they felt the need to publish a list of 13 ‘foods’, it should have been to use them as examples of fake food i.e. things to avoid.

England needs to eat better. England needs a lifestyle change, not to go on a diet. Tell people to eat less and they eat badly. Tell people to eat better and they naturally eat the nutrients they need, feel satiated, and often eat less, as this very recent paper nicely showed.

Public Health England needs to stop working with the fake food industry and issue some evidence based advice for once!


8 thoughts on “Britain needs to go on a diet says Public Health England

  • Hi Zoe,

    I’ve always wondered about these seemingly arbitrary numbers: 1) 1500mg or 2300 mg sodium [good luck with that!]; 2) 25mg/38mg fiber for women and men; 3) 10% max saturated fat; 4) 25%-35% max fat; 5) 10% max added sugar; and 6) five-a-day, nine-a-day, twelve-a-day, etc., etc. I have looked for evidence for many of these values, and I have not been able to find any. What is your take on these figures? Were they just pluck out of thin air?



  • “What you have been doing isn’t working. Therefore you should do exactly the same, only MORE and HARDER.”

    Frankly they are several steps beyond irrelevant. But I’m sure the sponsorships just keep rolling in.

  • Hmm. 2605 daily calories for men and 400/600/600, total 1600 from meals.
    That leaves 1005 calories.
    On a real food lowish carb diet you only need 3 meals a day for satiety.
    PHE are suggesting two full meals’ worth of snacks, confectionery, sweetened drinks. Are they mad? (No need to answer that)

  • So Zoe, when are you going to go full carnivore? ;]

    I’m sure you’ve seen the guy online, Shawn Baker.

    I have been doing it for 15 days now, eating only meat, broth, butter, eggs, cheese, dairy, fish. I am in pretty good shape already (38 yrs old, 6’2, 200 lbs / 14.3stone and around 12% body fat) and in those 15 days I have shed more body fat, dropping down to 192lbs this morning, down to the last belt buckle (!). I have not been hungry once, I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full – I cracked/cheated once and had some green and blacks choc.

    Strength has gone up, I am a fairly serious lifter, squatting around 150kg’s etc, so I am very in tune with my body and know what’s going on. In this time I have hit records in the gym.

    Doing between 25 – 75grams at most of carbs a day, but in the form of whole milk on the way to the gym (yes, that’s a lot of milk in one go ha).

    Was doing over 3000 calories a day, with around 300 – 500 grams of carbs in there. Now down to around 2300 calories a day but still putting on muscle, so that blows the cals in/cals out theory out the window (I know you debunked this long ago).

    I am tracking on Chronometer to monitor deficiencies.

    Sleep is solid. And I won’t overshare except to say this; digestion is phenomenal ha ha. Previously I was in the toilet 3 times a day, now in once a day at most, sometimes miss a day

    People’s toilet habits are obviously an odd subject, but I didn’t realise until doing carnivore, how unhealthy it is to be bloated, in the toilet and passing wind all day every day. That is not a good sign (!!).

    • Hi Oliver – I hope never! I don’t actually like meat that much – I just know it has the nutrients I need. I’d eat berries and proper yoghurt before meat any day! I’m not diabetic. My BMI is 20. I sleep like a cat. My muscles are impossible to hide on some videos on line – why would I want to do this? I worry sometimes about how extreme some people are getting with all this. Food is just fuel for me – it can be very nice fuel – but I don’t want to track anything ever! Research and time with family/friends/pets is far more fun :-)

      Good luck to you though – we’re all different and the world would be very dull if we weren’t.

      Best wishes – Zoe

      • I understand your concern and you are correct, there is a heavy element of neuroticism in all this, especially for the ones like me who have a superficial desire to look a certain way!

        But I think it’s worth flying over the cuckoo’s nest on this one when you have a look at the ailments people are fixing by eliminating plants. Interesting blog at

        I only track the deficiencies in the early stages because I like to learn, and it would be foolish not to – in fact it opens up a whole new avenue of exploration with regards to the RDA’s. Where did they come from, what (or who) are they based on and how much vitamin C do you really need in the absence of glucose.

        Thanks again.

  • You will be pleased to know my 12 yr old daughters comment on the news release on Brekkie TV was “well who eats that stuff anyway – thats ridiculous” her world is we cook real food, prob have too many carbs just at the moment but we prioritise Veg and good meat, we cook from scratch bar maybe once a month. She was incredulous that others don’t. Made me smile!!

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