Plans for calorie counts on menus slammed as ‘dangerous’ for people with eating disorders

Kate Plummer
Thursday 13 May 2021 09:23
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(Getty Images)

Government plans for mandatory calorie counts on menus in pubs, restaurants and cafes have been slammed for fears they will trigger eating disorders.

The law unveiled in the Queen’s Speech – which (FYI Americans) was not written by the Queen – will make it compulsory for hospitality businesses with more than 250 employees to label food in a bid to tackle obesity, but campaigners and people on social media have said it will endanger people with disorders.

James Quinn, of eating disorder charity Beat, told Huffington Post he was “extremely disappointed” with the plans, which come “despite clear evidence it is ineffective and dangerous to people affected by eating disorders”.

Their chief executive Andrew Radford added: “It is extremely disappointing that the Government have chosen to put at risk the health of people affected by eating disorders.

“We recognise the importance of addressing obesity, but the risks of stigmatising and poorly-considered campaigns on those affected by eating disorders must be taken into account.”

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The government says it hopes that these plans will enable people to make informed decisions about the food that they consume to tackle obesity.

But others on social media were similarly concerned about the potential mental health impact:

Meanwhile, it comes during Mental Health Awareness Week, in which charities and individuals use social media to share their experiences with mental health issues including eating disorders to affect change, and the timing of the law has not gone unnoticed by people:

When the idea was unveiled last year, a petition arguing that it “would be at the extreme mental and physical detriment of those suffering from eating disorders” garnered over 18,000 signatures.

In a response issued at the time, the government said it “recognised concerns” about eating disorders but said that it was “right that our policy focuses on improving diet and reducing obesity.”

“Calorie labelling on menus in the out-of-home sector will ensure people are able to make informed decisions about the food and drink they and their families consume,” they said.

The legislation has also been criticised for other reasons. UK Hospitality boss Kate Nicholls said the last thing the sector needs after Covid shutdowns is “unnecessary red tape”, for instance.

Speaking to Huffington Post, she added: “Layering on new costs for businesses in a sector that has been hardest hit by the pandemic risks prolonging their recovery and business’ ability to invest and create jobs.”

Drinks will not be included in the plans. The government has also said it will restrict promotions on high fat, salt and sugar food and drinks in retailers from April 2022, and will introduce a ban on junk food adverts before 9am on TV, alongside a total ban online.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

“Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening conditions and having one can so often be utterly devastating for people and for their loved ones. It’s imperative that we ensure people get the right support.“Over 6 in 10 adults and more than 1 in 3 children aged 10-11 years are overweight or obese which means it is more important than ever that we ensure people are equipped with the information they need to make informed healthier decisions about their food.”  

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