Flourish With Fran Jan 22

Fran Vuolo

Discussing perceptions towards calories on restaurant menus in the uk.

In the spring of 2021, the UK government announced that they were ‘tackling obesity’ to empower adults and children to live healthier lives and are moving to a more preventative approach in healthcare and public health with their Better Health campaign. This includes banning the advertising of high fat sugar and salt products on tv and online before 9pm, ending the promotional offers on these food items, expanding on weight management services, and introducing legislation to require larger out-of-home food businesses with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food that they sell.

This legislation has been met with mixed opinions. We know that a higher calorie intake during meals eaten in a restaurant will increase overall calorie intake associated with weight gain, but this individual legislation does not consider that our weight is influenced by a multitude of behaviours and one meal won’t make much difference to one’s weight.  

Adding calorie information to menus may influence a hypervigilant awareness in those who necessarily didn’t think about this before and can hinder recovery and behaviours in those who are recovered or recovering from eating disorders. We have already seen a rise in obsessive eating behaviour and eating disorders due to the pandemic because of the increased social isolation, changes to relationship with food and huge disruption to routine and control.  This tool is balancing on a fine line, where it may work for those who enjoy the numbers and have the education and understanding around nutrition and health. On the other hand, it can create a hostile and stigmatising environment around food choices and contribute to fat shaming which we know causes severe harm. Also, many of us don’t consider calorie intake when choosing our food, we consider taste, nutritional value, and enjoyment. Eating out at a restaurant is a social experience where you can try a variety of cuisines and take a break from the cooking and washing up process! 

Providing calories information on menus may help consumers to make an informed decision around their meals, but it risks overlooking the bigger picture of nutrition, for example fat is higher calories per gram but it provides a wide variety of essential nutrients that we need. This tool feels like it needs to be implemented alongside further education. We need incentives for the hospitality and food industry to support us consumers in making healthier and nutritious decisions, such as making fruit and vegetables more exciting and staples in our dishes. Encourage a wider variety of plant and British-sourced protein sources that work with our food producers, not importing these foods in. Providing proper food and nutrition education, with cooking skills, at a young age and continuing access to this knowledge throughout school and university will help provide these life skills to the public.  The hospitality industry is concerned with the timing of this legislation after the pandemic where many businesses are facing economic uncertainty and will be hit with costs will prolong the industries recovery and ability to move forwards. It feels like there are other tools that would be more beneficial for the nation’s health.

This article used discussion with Florence Taglight Primary School Teacher based in London:  ‘Growthnotgrades’ on Instagram and using research from Beth Tipps MSc Nutrition and Behaviour ‘Nutri_beth’ on Instagram.

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