26 Oct 2013

Is the government’s sat fat attack falling flat?

Thousands of tonnes of saturated fat are to be cut out of a range of foods, from Kit Kats to breadsticks, a government pledge says – but concerns are raised that the plan does not go far enough.

Jane Ellison, the public health minister, said that more than “one and a half Olympic-size swimming pools” of saturates will be removed from foods under pledges from industry.

Eleven companies have signed up to reduce or “reformulate” foods to cut the amount of saturated fats. However, major names are still missing from the deal, which was launched in 2011, including major supermarkets and fast food chains.


The government says the “Responsibility Deal” will save lives and that, if the amount of saturated fats we eat is cut by 15 per cent, 2,600 premature deaths every year could be prevented.

“One in six male deaths and one in nine female deaths are from coronary heart disease – this is why it’s critical that we challenge the way we eat and that we all make changes where we can,” Ms Ellison said.

“It’s hugely encouraging that companies providing almost half of the food available on the UK market have committed to this new Responsibility Deal pledge and they are leading the way to give their customers healthier products and lower fat alternatives.”

This latest piece of hype from the Department of Health will still mean over 50 per cent of food will still have extreme levels of saturated fat. Tam Fry

Companies who have signed up to the deal include Nestle, which has pledged to cut 3,800 tonnes of saturated fat from over a billion Kit Kat bars per year – approximately 3.8 grammes per bar. Tesco has also pledged to cut 32 tonnes of saturated fat from products such as breadsticks and Morrisons has said it will reformulate a range of spreads, removing around 50 tonnes.

The NHS recommends that the average man should eat no more than 30 grammes of saturated fat a day, and the average woman no more than 20 grammes.

This means that, for a man, three McDonald’s Big Macs, four-and-a-half Kit Kats, or three and a half portions of Tesco breadsticks would take up your recommended daily intake of saturated fats.

Face the fats

Organisations such as the British Heart Foundation warn against the consumption of too much saturated fat because they can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, in turn increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.

Typical foods that are high in saturated fats include butter, lard, ghee, palm oil and coconut oil.

But maybe fat isn’t the problem.

“The real culprit that we’re facing at the minute is added sugar”, said Aseem Malhotra, of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, “saturated fat has a role to play however in processed foods, replacing saturated fats with more sugar isn’t going to help.”

And then, while the list of companies that have signed up, in some way, to the deal also includes major names such as Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Subway – there are many other names not on the list.

Tam Fry, a trustee of the National Obesity Forum, said that government should force corporates to cut saturated fats from foods.

“It is a small step in the right direction but it is only a small step,” he said.

“This latest piece of hype from the Department of Health will still mean over 50 per cent of food will still have extreme levels of saturated fat.

“The much vaunted voluntary Responsibility Deal will never succeed until the government takes a grip and makes everybody sign up to it.”

The government’s deal coincides with a poll from Sainsbury’s, which found that 84 per cent of adults have no idea how much saturated fat they should consume.

The poll also found that one in five adults think that all types of fat are bad for one’s health, and 66 per cent of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed admitted that they were confused by different types of fat.