We must get portion sizes under control

19 October 2013        

Category: BHF Comment

Man shopping for food in a supermarket

Simon GillespieOur Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, explores the problem of portion sizes and who must take responsibility for solving it.

Nearly two-thirds of UK adults are overweight or obese. So are a third of our children. It’s a problem that isn’t going away and it has severe consequences for the health of millions across the UK. So we need new approaches to tackling the causes of obesity.

Choosing a healthy, balanced diet is a key way of protecting and promoting our heart health. Everyone needs to take responsibility for the foods they eat but the British Heart Foundation recognises that people need support and the right information to make informed choices about what, and how much, they do eat. 

Larger portions encourage us to eat more – and shape our view of what is a normal amount to eat.

Our new Portion Distortion report is about the 'how much' and about the difficulties people can face when confronted by ever growing portion sizes in supermarket meals – and the lack of guidance from government.

Fantastic progress has been made recently on getting agreement on front-of-pack food labelling, but portion sizes remain varied and confusing. This is unsurprising, perhaps, given that official government information on portion sizes hasn’t been substantially updated in 20 years.

Our research shows there is no meaningful understanding of what is an appropriate portion size. The size of some portions has doubled, while others are so varied between different suppliers and manufacturers that trying to make comparisons is nigh on impossible.

Appropriate and consistent

The new front-of-pack labelling system presents calorie and Reference Intake information – formerly known as Guideline Daily Amounts – based on portion size.

To help shoppers make the best use of nutritional labelling, the stated portion sizes need to be appropriate and consistent.

We know that portion sizes influence how much we eat. Put simply, larger portions encourage us to eat more – and shape our view of what is a normal amount to eat.

Obesityhigh blood pressure and high cholesterol are all major risk factors for heart disease. The role played by poor diets in the ill-health of the nation make it essential that governments and administrations around the UK prioritise this issue and establish new guidance.

We are calling on supermarkets and manufacturers to take their share of responsibility for how much we eat. We are calling for action from all to provide clearer information to consumers to help them take control of their health.