Families should eat as they did in the 1950s to avoid obesity, according to report on modern diets.
Portion sizes have ballooned in the last few decades – with people filling their plates to the brim and cleaning them of every last morsel.
British retailers are selling food in bigger and bigger packages – with the average supermarket pizza increasing from 200g to more than 250g in the last two decades alone.
Leading health scientists at Cambridge and Oxford universities warned today that this trend needs to be urgently reversed in order to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis.
And they advise that people eat off smaller plates to help moderate their diets.
‘Reducing portion sizes across the whole diet to realise large reductions in consumption may mean reverting to sizes of portions and tableware similar to those in the 1950s,’ they wrote.
Little data exists for average diets and portion sizes in post-war Britain – but the experts predict that consumption of energy-dense foods has more than doubled since then.
The Government voluntary agreement with food manufacturers – the so-called ‘Responsibility Deal’ – involves a mere 5 per cent reduction in calories, nowhere near the 50 per cent needed to get back to 1950s diets.
It research was published last night after Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, warned that childhood obesity was a real ‘threat’ to the country’s long-term health.
Addressing the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s annual conference, Mr Stevens said the NHS had a ‘crucial’ role in helping lead a national debate on the issue.
He said: ‘We can help change the tide of opinion in this country.
‘We have to take a more assertive stance particularly on junk food, advertising and marketing of food aimed at children and sugar.’
The new BMJ report summarises the most conclusive evidence to date on portion sizes, packaging, and tableware.
The authors calculated that simply reducing the size of a plate or bowl reduces food intake by 159 calories a day – a 10 per cent change for a British adult.
If the same approach is applied to all food and drink consumption – with smaller food packaging in supermarkets and sandwich shops, smaller bottles or glasses in bars and smaller portions in restaurants – overall calorie intake could be reduced by up to 16 per cent, they said.
People tend to fill their plate when they sit down for a meal – and do not stop eating until their plate is clean.
By using smaller tableware, they will put less food on their plate in the first place.
The team, who analysed 61 separate studies involving 6,711 participants, also called for retailers to stop discounting food sold in larger quantities.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, last night said that if every family reduced their intake just slightly it would have a dramatic impact on the population’s health.
‘A 10 per cent reduction in food intake may not seem like much – but multiplied by 60million people it would have a really big impact on diabetes and obesity.’
But he admitted it would not be easy to make such changes.
‘People now eat confectionary, for example, all the time,’ he said. ‘How do we get back to the situation where confectionary is a treat rather than an everyday item?’