Large businesses in England will be required to display calorie information on menus and food labels, in a bid to help the public make healthier choices when eating out.
The changes will come into effect from April 2022, the government announced on Thursday (13 May).
However, eating disorder charities in the UK have hit out at the move, calling it “detrimental”, “dangerous” and “damaging” to those living with eating disorders or disordered eating.
‘Scrap this dangerous and ineffective policy’
Businesses with 250 or more employees in England, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways, will be required to display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drink items that are prepared for customers.
Calorie information will need to be displayed on physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels.
The measures form part of the government’s wider strategy to tackle obesity, with the aim of helping people make more informed and healthier choices when eating food out or ordering takeaways.
Public Health Minister, Jo Churchill, said: “Our aim is to make it as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices for themselves and their families, both in restaurants and at home. That is why we want to make sure everyone has access to accurate information about the food and drink we order.”
Ms Churchill added that “by only requiring large businesses to label calories on menus, it will not impact small, independent businesses and will ensure those who might find the requirement more difficult are not impacted.”
However experts have warned that the new rules could have a “devastating” impact on those living with eating disorders.
Tom Quinn, Director of External Affairs for eating disorder charity Beat, said: 'We know that including calories on menus causes great distress to those affected by eating disorders and could exacerbate eating disorder thoughts and behaviours, which have the potential to be devastating.
“At the same time, there is very limited evidence to suggest that calorie labelling leads to a reduction in calories purchased by the general population.”
Mr Quinn added that due to the Covid pandemic, the past year has been “extraordinarily difficult for those affected by eating disorders,” with Beat delivering over 100,000 support sessions since April 2020.
“We urge the Government to listen to those with lived experience of eating disorders and scrap this dangerous and ineffective policy,” Mr Quinn added.
‘Very detrimental to a lot of people’
Former Emmerdale actress Gemma Oaten, agrees that adding calories to menus could have a negative impact on those with eating disorders.
Ms Oaten, who manages eating disorder support charity SEED, told NationalWorld that the Government’s plan is “very dangerous” especially as eating disorders are “massively on the increase”, predominantly due to the “after effects of the global pandemic.”
She explains that 1.6 million people in the UK alone are currently suffering from an eating disorder, and that putting calories on menus is therefore going to be “very detrimental to a lot of people,” alongside making those who don’t have eating disorders “feel more self-conscious about what they are eating.”
Ms Oaten says that at SEED they treat “the person, not the eating disorder”, but that “constantly making people feel like they are surrounded by numbers is only going to have a damaging effect on many, many people’s mental health as a whole.”