On the 5th February 2008, the Food Standard's Agency (FSA) announced the first steps of its programme to help people in the UK reduce the amount of saturated fat they eat and to achieve a better balance between energy intake and energy output (e.g. physical activity).

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The FSA is developing a programme of work to tackle high intakes of saturated fat and excess energy intakes. Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat and a diet consisting of excess energy, compared to the energy we burn off through activity, can contribute to developing a range of diet-related illnesses. These include obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. In the UK, saturated fatty acids (SFA) provide 13.3% of food energy for both men and women, which exceeds the recommended 11% of food energy. It is estimated that reducing population intakes of saturated fat to below 11% of food energy, as part of a balanced varied diet, could help to prevent up to 3,500 deaths a year.

Key aspects of the programme include:

  • Exploring routes for the most effective consumer awareness activity to raise the profile of saturated fats in the diet (this will be based on new consumer research to be published by the FSA shortly);
  • Promoting and increasing uptake of healthier options, including reduced-fat products and healthier ranges;
  • Holding an independent academic workshop to examine evidence on portion sizes, their impact on energy intakes and scope for specific portion size recommendations. This will be chaired by Dr Susan Jebb – Head of Nutrition and Health Research at the Medical Research Council;
  • Exploring, with the food industry, the development of smaller portion sizes, particularly for pre-packed individual servings of snacks, confectionery, ready meals and non-diet soft drinks;
  • Encouraging further voluntary reformulation of specific food groups to reduce the amount of saturated fat and added sugar they contain;
  • Recognition of the achievements, and future commitments, of manufacturers and retailers to reformulation via the publication of an Achievements and Commitments table outlining high level industry commitment to reformulation to reduce levels of saturated fat and added sugar in foods.

The BNF shares the FSA’s concerns regarding the health implications of current intakes of saturated fat and the rising levels of obesity in the UK, and welcomes initiatives designed to improve public health in these areas.

In particular, the workshop to advise on the evidence relating to portion sizes is likely to prove valuable, and hopefully will enable portion size recommendations to be based on sound science. In exploring routes for the most effective consumer awareness activity, it will be important to identify barriers to change for those with high intakes of saturated fat and/or energy. It is therefore hoped that a targeted approach can be used to encourage behaviour change with respect to saturated fat and energy intake, and it will be important to consider whether these two dietary behaviours need to be tackled separately. The commitment to continue to forge genuine partnerships between the FSA and industry to support and encourage reformulation and provision of ‘healthier’ options is welcomed.

In its response to the FSA consultation, BNF highlighted the contribution that food eaten outside the home can make to saturated fat and energy intake, and therefore welcomes the FSA’s plans to extend its activities with the workplace foodservice to reach a wider foodservice sector; this is described as a programme that runs parallel to the saturated fat and energy intake programme.

Last reviewed July 2009. Next review due January 2013.