The British Hospitality Association (BHA) is urging the industry to increase its focus on health as part of a wider government push to reduce obesity levels in the UK.
In a report released yesterday on health in the sector, BHA indicated that 80 per cent of operators have already improved the health of their offerings, primarily by serving lighter meals.
However, with 60 per cent of UK adults and 28 per cent of children classed as overweight or obese – making the British the most obese nation in Europe – BHA said the industry still has a key role to play in helping to improve the nation’s health and wellness.
Far-reaching health impacts
“Britain’s hospitality industry serves one in every six meals consumed in the UK, and provides nearly 20 per cent of all food eaten in the country,” said BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim, adding that because of the sector generates 2.4m direct jobs (one in every 13), and a further 1.2m indirect jobs, the impact of any health initiatives adopted by the industry reaches more people than just its customers.
“It’s not only about reducing salt, trans fats and calorie counting. It’s about education, and educating all catering staff who will in turn spread this knowledge. Millions of people in the hospitality industry can become ambassadors of healthy eating,” said Ibrahim.
She urged more operators to sign up to voluntary pledges in the government’s Responsibility Deal, which was launched in March this year in order to tackle obesity and its health implications.
For the hospitality sector, the Responsibility Deal involves the following principal pledges, which should be implemented from 1 September 2011:
- Label calories on food and drink consumed out-of-home
- Reduce salt levels by 15 per cent within two years, compared to 2010 targets
- Remove artificial trans fats from products by the end of 2011
- Promote responsible drinking and clearly label alcohol content
Speaking at the launch of BHA’s health report yesterday, Earl Howe, the parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health, applauded the 28 companies in the hospitality sector that have so far signed up to the Responsibility Deal, encompassing over 4,000 high street outlets.
“But we can’t be satisfied as long as there are still companies out there that have yet to play their part. So I do want to see more of you commit and sign up,” he told a room of operators attending the launch at the House of Commons.
“I know these pledges are challenging, but I don’t think anyone should shrink from that challenge, because the prize at the end of it is one worth winning. There’s a clear history of innovation in the catering industry, and this is an opportunity to innovate again in a way that is good for consumers, good for business and good for the health of the nation,” he said.
Health Awareness Survey
A Health Awareness Survey conducted by BHA in March 2011 and representing over 10,000 establishments found that four out of five respondents already offer lighter meals, salads and other low calorie dishes.
In addition, 62.5 per cent have eliminated trans fats from their menus, while half have reduced salt levels by 10-15 per cent working towards the FSA 2012 salt targets.
Moving forward, BHA said it will continue to be closely involved in phase 2 of the Responsibility Deal, which will particularly focus on reducing calorie intakes, increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and meeting the 2012 salt targets.
Operators present yesterday expressed their support towards the Responsibility Deal, but highlighted that the measures outlined in the deal are not always applicable to all sectors.
“Fine dining is very different from the type of hospitality businesses who have already signed up to the Responsibility Deal (mainly chains, contract caterers or fast food operators),” said Paul Singer, managing director of London Fine Dining Group. “We support proposals for a reduction in salt and trans fats where feasible, but labelling is not likely to apply to our type of product.”
BHA agreed that calorie labelling is more suited to catering outlets serving ‘standardized’ meals, and would be “an onerous, expensive and time-consuming exercise” for independent restaurateurs who regularly create new dishes.
“I don’t think you can go as far as putting details on calories and salt on an individual restaurant’s menu, but what you can do though is fine tune your menu to look at serving healthier dishes,” said Richard Earl of Bradford, chairman of the Restaurant Association and proprietor of Porters English Restaurant in Covent Garden.
“There’s a lot that restaurants can do to go along with this and present dishes that should help the public to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It challenges the creativity of the chef.”