A crackdown on obesity launched by the Government today was criticised last night for not including many of Britain’s biggest fast-food chains.
More than 60 per cent of British adults and a third of children aged ten and 11 are overweight or obese.
To help Britain slim down, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has signed up supermarkets and food producers to commit to cut calories in some of their products and offer healthier options.
Asda, Coca-Cola, Mars, Morrisons, Premier Foods – the company behind Mr Kipling and Hovis – Subway and Tesco are all part of Mr Lansley’s Responsibility Deal to cut five billion calories a day from the nation’s diet.
But it does not include McDonalds, Burger King, KFC or many other popular chains. Charlie Powell, of food campaigner Sustain, said it was a ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ deal, adding: ‘The measures look like token gestures.
‘Launching new ranges is all very well, but these companies should commit to permanently reducing calories across all their products. We need legally enforceable targets, not promises.’
Shadow Public Health Minister Diane Abbott said it was ‘wholly worthless’.
‘Some of the country’s biggest firms have simply decided that they can’t be bothered with it all,’ she said.
‘None of the promises will happen before the end of 2014. The fight against the obesity epidemic cannot wait two years. We already have the fattest children in Europe.’
However, Mr Lansley said: ‘This is just the start of what must be a bigger, broader commitment from the food industry. But it is a great step in the right direction.’
Head of Science and Ethics at the British Medical Association, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, warned: ‘These proposals will not end obesity and there remain significant question marks over the government’s approach.
‘Food producers must be asked to make real changes on advertising and the levels of sugar and fat across their products that are enforceable through a proper framework of regulation.
‘We also need to find ways of encouraging people to have a more active lifestyle and properly help parents resist the influence of the wall to wall advertising that is aimed at their children.’
Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, Diane Abbott MP, described the responsibility deal as ‘wholly worthless’.
Chairman of the Responsibility Deal Food Network, Dr Susan Jebb, who has co-ordinated the scheme, acknowledged that some important firms have not signed up.
‘I know some other companies are already developing their plans but we need everyone, all companies - from all sectors and all sizes - to step up and act for the good of the nation’s health,’ she said.
The British Retail Consortium said supermarkets are already doing a lot to improve their products by, for example, cutting salt and saturated fat.
The Food and Drink Federation said: ‘A number of companies are making immediate commitments to support the calorie reduction pledge and we would expect other companies from right across the food and drink industry to join them.’
McDonald’s explained its decision to boycott the scheme, saying: ‘We believe that our existing commitments to providing calorie information on our menu boards, tray liners and website as well as offering a wide menu choice and on-going product reformulation, such as our recent move to reduce the fat content of our milkshakes by one third, are already helping our customers to make the calorie decisions that are right for them when they visit our restaurants.’
A spokesman for KFC said: 'We have been involved in discussions with the Department of Health for some time, and signed the calorie labelling and trans fat elimination pledges last year.
'We support moves to reduce the nation’s calorie intake, and have already taken a number of steps in this area, including launching a non-fried, lower calorie range, and encouraging customers to "lighten up" by choosing vegetable sides and diet drinks. We are reviewing the Department’s proposals and working towards signing the appropriate pledges.'
By Sean Poulter