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Case study: Chipping away at portion sizes

Researchers funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research have worked with fish and chip wholesaler to encourage takeaways to offer smaller portions to customers, in a bid to combat obesity. The wholesaler subsequently developed smaller packaging that is now in use in more than 250 shops across the country.

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The challenge

Nearly two thirds of the population in England are either overweight or obese. Obesity is linked to a number of health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

About a fifth of people eat takeaway meals at home once a week or more. Adults who eat takeaway meals at least weekly consume 63-87 calories per day more than people who rarely eat takeaways.

Fish and chips are a mainstay takeaway meal in the UK, with an estimated 10,500 shops nationally.

An average fish and chips portion contains 1658 calories, which is equivalent to 79% of a woman’s and 64% of a man’s estimated daily energy requirement

The food industry has an important role in influencing what and how we eat. Wholesale suppliers have substantial influence on what food is offered by independent takeaways.

Working with wholesale suppliers to improve portion control in takeaways could be a means to reduce obesity and promote population health.

Our research

Researchers funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research explored how working with a wholesale supplier could encourage fish and chip shops to offer smaller portion sizes to customers.

The study, part of the Transforming the ‘Foodscape’ programme of research, involved working with independent fish and chip wholesaler Henry Colbeck, which supplies over 2,500 shops across northern England and Scotland.

The researchers ran an engagement event with owners and managers of 12 fish and chip shops to highlight the problem of excessive portion sizes and potential ways to reduce portion sizes.

They then analysed sales, secret-shopper reports, customer surveys and interviews from the participating shops.

Their results, published in BMJ Open, showed that fish and chip shops were open to promoting healthier meal options to customers, and customers were happy to purchase smaller portions. Provisional data suggests that the promotion of smaller meal packaging is viable and potentially sustainable for takeaway owners.

Henry Colbeck subsequently developed the Lite-BITE® box. Its dimensions reduce the size of a portion of fish and chips to 600 calories, compared with over 1,600 for an average fish and chip meal.

The Lite-BITE® boxes are now available in over 250 fish and chip shops, with sales data suggesting that these smaller portions are popular and rapidly becoming an established menu item in fish and chip shops throughout the UK.

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Hear from the researcher

Lead author Louis Goffe, Research Associate at Newcastle University and member of Fuse, The Centre for Translational Research, said: “I love fish and chips and this research aims to find a way that we can have our fish and chip treat – but less of it.

We focused on coming up with a solution which provides a healthier meal option but equally importantly works for the fish and chip shop owners. The sales show that there is a demand for smaller portion meals, and we hope this will act as a template for others in the fast-food sector to follow.

“The independent takeaway sector is one of the most challenging food sectors to work with to make changes. This research emphasises the importance of working with wholesale suppliers, who have a strong relationship with traders, to improve the health benefits of hot food takeaways – and Henry Colbeck have taken a lead in that, understanding the changing market and giving customers what they want, a lighter meal.”