Has calorie labelling on menus done more harm than good?

Going out for a meal has always been pretty simple. You leave the pans, the peeling and the washing up, and head out somewhere to eat, opening up a menu of delicious, guilt-free options. At least until recently, when a controversial measure brought in by the government in April mandated that every restaurant, cafe and takeaway with upwards of 250 employees must now add calorie labels to their menus. Some welcomed the change while others have vehemently opposed it. Boris Johnson claimed the measure would “tackle obesity levels” and “level up the nation’s health”, but less than six months on, and with Liz Truss now in government, the policy may already be under threat. One report suggests Truss may move to reduce the number of businesses which are forced to comply with the reform; another says she may do away with the policy altogether.

ne of the biggest objections to the law is that calorie counting is a blunt instrument when it comes to a good diet. This is because it doesn’t take into account the various nutrients that actually make up our food – such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates and sugars. The British Obesity Society, a charity working to improve the lives of overweight people across the UK, says that while “all transparency is good transparency”, the policy does not go far enough to educate people about nutrition. For example, it’s led to some people abandoning perceived healthy options (such as salads) in favour of typically “unhealthy” options (like a burger) because the former has more calories. “In some instances, it’s actually influencing food choice negatively, because it’s obviously not all about the calories. People have a right to know how many calories are in their food, but the amount of saturated fat and sugar should also be known,” says Louise Payne, a nutritionist and co-chairperson of the organisation.

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