Food manufacturers and retailers have been challenged to slash the calorie content of popular products by 20% by 2024.

Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have unveiled the target as part of the government’s strategy to cut childhood and adult obesity.

The programme is focused on products consumed by families including pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, meat products and savoury snacks, all of which are sold as own label products in independent c-stores.

A PHE spokesman said the agency was confident the industry was on board and it didn’t expect the target not to be met. “We’ll be monitoring and engaging with the industry constantly,” he said. The Food and Drink Federation has welcomed the announcement.

As with the sugar reduction programme, PHE is urging the industry to meet the target in three ways: change the recipe of products; reduce portion size; and encourage consumers to purchase lower calorie products.

Public health minister Steve Brine MP said: “There can be no doubt that obesity is now one of our greatest challenges - one that is fuelling an epidemic of preventable illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cancer. These not only shorten lives but put unsustainable pressure on our health service.

“We have a responsibility to act, which is why we are supporting families to make the healthy choice. Our calorie reduction programme – the first of its kind from any country in the world – will continue to build on the progress of our world-leading childhood obesity plan, which has led to positive steps by industry.”

The strategy also includes the launch of a One You campaign, encouraging adults to consume 400 calories at breakfast, and 600 for lunch and dinner. Adults consume 200 to 300 calories in excess each day, according to PHE.

FDF director general Ian Wright said: “We warmly welcome the government outlining its calorie reduction ambitions in today’s report. FDF has long advocated an approach to tackling obesity which looks beyond individual nutrients and instead primarily focuses on calories.

“FDF and its members take their responsibility in tackling obesity seriously. For the last decade the UK’s food and drink companies have been reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes. In fact, over the last five years FDF members have reduced calorie content in the average basket by 5.5%*.

The next step in the programme involves engagement with the whole food industry such as retailers, manufacturers, major restaurant, café, takeaway, and delivery companies, and health and charity sectors, to develop category guidelines. These will be published in mid-2019.