Wednesday 27 December 2017

Public Health England are now lying about calories

According to the Daily Mail, Public Health England (PHE) are ending the year by lying with guidelines. Not alcohol this time, but calories...

Britons are being urged to cut their meals to just 1,600 calories a day and 200 calories for snacks in tough new health guidelines.

They will be told they should limit themselves to 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for dinner.

This comes to 1,600 calories, well below the current recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men. Those who exercise regularly can have even more.

Assuming that this is true, it will be interesting to see what evidence - if any - PHE provides for this new edict. They will struggle to find any because there is none. The existing guidelines are broadly correct. If the average person consumed 1,600 calories they would lose weight rapidly and would become malnourished within a relatively short period of time.

How do we know how many calories people need to maintain a healthy weight? One way is to monitor individuals using doubly labelled water. Another way is to look at what the government gives people when they are under its direct command. Soldiers in the British army are given a ration of 4,000 calories a day, for example, although these people are admittedly highly physically active.

A more realistic example is that of male inmates of British prisons who are given a diet based on a target of 2,515 calories a day, plus snacks. During the Second World War, civilians were given a ration of 3,000 calories a day and this was supplemented by food from other sources.

I have written before about the British government's careful research into the calorie needs of the population in the late 1940s. They concluded that people lost weight if they consumed fewer than 2,900 calories a day. More recently, the average Cuban lost 20 pounds when calorie intake fell from 2,900 to 1,900 in the early 1990s.

The virtual absence of obesity in the mid-20th century when people were consuming around 3,000 calories a day is evidence that we have become less physically active in the meantime, but have we become so sedentary that we only need to eat half as many calories as we did under rationing and a third less than a prisoner?

No. This seems to be a case of PHE deliberately giving people false information with the intention of tricking them into eating less, based on the assumption that we underestimate how much we eat, even to ourselves. The idea is that if you tell people to eat 1,600 calories, perhaps they will eat 2,300 calories. If you tell people to drive at 20mph, perhaps they'll drive at 30mph. If you tell people it's unsafe to drink more than 14 units of alcohol, perhaps they'll only drink 21 units.

There is no doubt that many people underestimate their calorie and alcohol intake, but that is no justification for PHE lying to us. People will not come to any harm if they restrict their alcohol consumption to 14 units a week. They will come to harm if they consume 1,600 calories a day. This is totally unscientific and highly irresponsible advice (think of the anorexics, for example). PHE are no longer pretending to be a source of accurate advice. They are in the business of nudging, manipulation and deliberate deceit.

But there is something else going on here.

The new calorie guidelines – the One You nutrition campaign – will be rolled out by PHE in March, and adults will be told to remember the ‘400-600-600’ rule.

PHE officials are in talks with coffee shop chains and supermarkets to promote healthy breakfast and lunch options within the limit.

The idea of having 'limits' for individual meals is entirely new and I suspect that there is an agenda at work here. The 400-600-600 'rule' will allow PHE and its army of scolds to name and shame every restaurant portion, takeaway and ready meal that contains more than the government-approved quantity of calories. Individual meals will be portrayed as hazardous per se and will become targets for advertising bans, taxes and reformulation. A whole Pandora's Box is being quite deliberately opened.

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