Researchers found that 23% of different lunch meal deals – a main, snack and drink – offered at five national supermarkets and high street stores exceeded the recommended government guidelines of 600 calories for lunch. The most calorific meal deal clocked in at 1,329 calories (222% of the recommended 600-calorie guideline, and most of the recommended intake for female adults and more than half for males).
The Government launched its ‘One You’ campaign back in 2016, to try and help tackle of obesity epidemic and make the public more aware of their health and diet. One of the key messages in this campaign was the 400-600-600 guidance. It recommended that adults consume 400 calories for breakfast, and 600 each for lunch and dinner, with two 200-calorie snacks.
It is up to the individual to decide what to buy for their lunch. But if the most attractively priced options are the unhealthiest, does that really make it a fair choice?Dr Sheena Leek, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Birmingham
Published in the Journal of Marketing Management, the University of Birmingham study shows that, for working people on the go, limiting lunch to 600 calories can be a bit harder than one might imagine.
Dr Sheena Leek, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Birmingham who led the study said: “For many people who work shifts, or your average nine to five, finding time to prep lunch can be difficult, especially for those with childcare responsibilities. For this reason, the meal deal, offered in shops and supermarkets all over the country, is a quick, easy, and economical option.
“However, our research has shown that many of these meal deal combinations are well exceeding the suggested government calorie limit for lunches, and in some cases taking up over half recommended daily allowance for a female adult. Most people won’t be aware of how many calories are in their lunch when they only have 30 minutes or so to grab something to eat and get back to the office or on the road.”
The study reveals that the worst offenders for packing away the calories in meal deals are triple sandwiches with an average of 657 calories and baguettes, with an average of 528. The worst snacks were crisps and chocolate bars. And finally, the most calorific drinks were smoothies with an average of 143 calories, and energy drinks with around 127.
Dr Leek continued: “The government has long spoken about combatting obesity and needing people to eat healthier, exercise more and for the nation to ‘slim down’ to combat weight-related health issues, which may require NHS resources later in life. However, if one of the most common and attractive lunch options for working people is regularly breaking government guidance, achieving this aim is going to be incredibly hard.”
The paper suggests that to bring lunches back in line with the 600kcal guidance, the government could encourage retailers to use the meal deal promotion for combinations that meet the limit, making it easier for consumers to choose the healthier option. The paper also suggests that the government could make this a legal requirement, but it acknowledges that this would be incredibly restrictive for retailers.
Dr Leek concludes: “Companies could take some quick and easy steps to reduce the calories in their meal deals, such as removing the worst offending products from the offer, reformulating recipes, or resizing products. The Government could also take steps to address this issue either through renewed guidance and collaboration with shops or through legislation.
“Currently, and ultimately it is up to the individual to decide what to buy for their lunch. But if the most attractively priced options are the unhealthiest, does that really make it a fair choice?”