• The food industry should cut the calories in meals by up to fifth to help curb obesity in the UK, the country's public health body said Monday.
  • Targets differ for cafes, restaurants, takeaways, and supermarkets – but all the measures are voluntary, which health groups have criticised.
  • The guidelines were published after research showed obesity increases the risk of developing severe Covid-19.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Shops and restaurants should cut the calories in their pizzas, fries, and garlic bread, the UK government has said, following research that suggests being overweight increases your risk of dying from Covid-19.

New government guidelines issued Monday say cafes, restaurants, and takeaways should cut the calories in most of their meals by 20%. Grocery stores should reduce calories in ready meals, fries, and garlic bread by 10% – but for pizzas this should be 20%.

PHE issued the guidelines after its research showed that being overweight increases your risk of dying from Covid-19. Morbidly obese people make up only 2.9% of the UK population, but almost 8% of all critical Covid-19 cases in intensive care units, data from the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre showed.

PHE gave stricter targets to restaurants, cafes, and takeaways because research shows that people consume on average 200 more calories a day when they eat there, as opposed to eating food from grocery stores. Pizzas from restaurants and takeaways can have up to 1,000 calories more than ones in shops and supermarkets, PHE said.

The measures are only voluntary — companies will not be penalized if they don't follow them. Health groups argue that fines or taxes would make the guidelines more effective.

"This is about broadening choice for consumers, as well as making the healthier choice the easy choice," said Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist for PHE. "Progress to date on sugar and salt reduction has shown that this can happen without compromising on taste and quality."

Latest in series of obesity measures

The guidelines are the latest in a series of obesity measures introduced by the British government. In July it announced it would ban TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar, and salt before 9 p.m., and mandate large restaurants, cafes, and takeaways display calorie content on their menus.

However, the National Obesity Forum accused the government of giving the ''green light to promote junk food" after the national "Eat Out to Help Out" scheme offered diners 50% discounts in August for sit-down meals. The scheme, designed to encourage spending in restaurants and cafes, included fast-food chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC.

On Monday, British supermarket Sainsbury's began awarding extra loyalty card points to customers who buy more fruit and vegetables than usual.

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