On 17 March 2016, Public Health England (PHE) published the Eatwell Guide, an updated version of the Eatwell Plate. The guide provided a visual representation of the recommended portions of foods and drinks that make up a healthy, balanced diet. The updated guide applied to most of the population, regardless of weight, dietary restrictions/preferences or ethnic origin, but excluding children under the age of 2.
Changes made to the guide
In updating the guide, PHE:
- Renamed the Eatwell Plate the Eatwell Guide
- Included an illustration of the standard front of pack nutrition label that gives information on energy, fat, saturates, sugars and salt contents per 100 grams of a food or drink product, alongside the reference intake for each of these.
- Included daily energy requirements
- Gave more detailed guidance within food categories
- Resized food group segments
- Updated segment names
- Included a hydration message
- Removed foods high in fat, salt and sugar from the main guide to emphasise that they are not a necessary part of a healthy diet
- Differentiated unsaturated oils and spreads from other foods that are high in fat, salt and sugars
- Removed fruit juice from the fruit and vegetables section
- Reduced the references to meat and dairy
- Removed the plate and cutlery elements of the design to better account for England's ethnically diverse population, who eat their meals in various ways.
Background to the changes
PHE’s changes were partly based on a July 2015 report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). SACN reviewed evidence on the links between carbohydrate consumption and health outcomes and found that high levels of sugar consumption were associated with a greater risk of tooth decay, that sugary drinks could cause weight gain in teenagers and children and that drinking them often increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The report recommended that free sugars (added sugar and the sugar that is in honey, syrup and fruit juice) should account for no more than 5% of daily dietary energy intake, and that recommended fibre intake should increase to 30g per day.
PHE also based their changes on the findings of consumer research on public understanding of the guide.
For the first time, the Eatwell Guide included references to sustainability. Its release was accompanied by a report completed for PHE by the Carbon Trust on the environmental impact of its nutritional guidance. Their analysis found that the Eatwell Guide showed a diet with a lower environmental impact than the 2016 UK diet.
However, an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal criticised the Eatwell Guide for failing to include specific guidance on eating sustainably.
Analysis of the Eatwell Guide
A 2016 study that modelled the dietary and cost implications of following the Eatwell Guide instead of the Eatwell Plate found the changes would mean eating more potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and other carbohydrates, and more fruit and vegetables. It found little impact on cost per adult per day of making the changes.
A further study published in December 2016 modelled the health impacts of following the guide and found that following the guide could increase average life expectancy by around 5.4 months for men and around 4.0 months for women.
In September 2018, research published by the Food Foundation found that, to follow the Eatwell Guide, '26.9% of households would need to spend more than a quarter of their disposable income after housing costs [on food]', making the case for cross-government policy changes to support low-income families to buy healthy food.
Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.
SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report.
The Stationary Office; 2015.
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How environmentally sustainable are the UK’s new dietary guidelines?
Scarborough P, Kaur A, Cobiac L, Owens P, Parlesak A, Sweeney K, Rayner M.
Eatwell Guide: modelling the dietary and cost implications of incorporating new sugar and fibre guidelines.
BMJ open. 2016; 6(12): e013182.
Cobiac LJ, Scarborough P, Kaur A, Rayner M.
The Eatwell guide: modelling the health implications of incorporating new sugar and fibre guidelines.
PLoS One. 2016; 11(12).
The Food Foundation.
Affordability of the UK's Eatwell Guide.
The Food Foundation; 2018.