Diners in England will see the calorie content of dishes appear on menus from today (6 April) as part of a government drive to tackle obesity and improve the nation’s health.
Under the new rules, businesses with more than 250 employees in England, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways, must display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drinks for customers.
Calories need to be displayed at the point of choice for the customer, such as on physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels.
The measures have been introduced to help consumers make more informed, healthier choices when eating out or ordering takeaways, and form part of the government’s wider war on obesity.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Obesity is one of the biggest health issues we face as a country and clear food labelling plays an important role in helping people make healthier choices for themselves and their families.
“We are all used to seeing nutritional information on products sold in supermarkets and displaying calorie information on menus can help us consume fewer calories when eating out or getting a takeaway.
“The regulations will also allow businesses to provide menus without calorie information at the request of the customer.”
What are the obesity figures in the UK?
It is estimated that overweight and obesity-related conditions cost the NHS £6.1 billion each year.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese, and one in three children leave primary school at an unhealthy weight.
A Public Health England survey on calorie reduction showed that 79% of respondents said menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks.
However, the move has received a mixed response, with one charity warning this will negatively affect people with eating disorders.
Director of external affairs at Beat, Tom Quinn, said the eating disorder charity was “extremely disappointed” at the decision, and warned it could create a fixation on restricting calories or increase feelings of guilt among those with an eating disorder.
He said: “We know from the people we support that including calories on menus can contribute to harmful eating disorder thoughts and behaviours worsening.
“For instance, it can increase a fixation on restricting calories for those with anorexia or bulimia, or increase feelings of guilt for those with binge-eating disorder.
“There is also very limited evidence that the legislation will lead to changed eating habits among the general population.
Henry Dimbleby, who co-founded the Leon restaurant chain, described the move as a “small intervention” and argued it will help companies make more informed choices about their menu options.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Dimbleby, who is also lead non-executive director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “If you look at what calorie labelling might do, I think it is a small intervention.
“The primary benefit, I think, actually, and from my experience at Leon – which we sold last year, I should say, so I’m not involved at the moment – it will make companies think a bit more carefully about what they put on the menu.
“But for the customer… I doubt it will have much effect for eating out.”