Following the government implementing a rule that all restaurants and food chains, with more than 250 members of staff, must display calorie information on their menu, many are questioning whether this is actually helping the UK’s obesity crisis.
According to an NHS health survey, two thirds of adults in the UK are obese or overweight, the Department of Health and Social Care decided that from April 6th, 2022, calories would have to be included on menus.
For some chains like Wetherspoons and McDonalds, customers wouldn’t notice a change, and for many other corporations, nutritional information is available on websites and the store apps.
However, an estimated 1.25 million Brits suffer with an eating disorder, and the inclusion of calories on every standard menu for restaurant chains only promotes restrictive or avoidant behaviour when it comes to food. With the highest rates amongst under twenty five’s, making students the most susceptible.
With little evidence that the disclosure of calories on menus will provide improvement of the population’s diet, a strong argument is made that this change is doing far more harm than it is good.
In America, after the inclusion of calories on the menu, only a 4% decrease in the number of calories per order was observed, showing that this method is largely ineffective proving that ‘labels do not have the desired effect in reducing total calories ordered’ according to the Journal of Community Health.
Following this change, one third year student who wishes to remain anonymous got in touch with us to share their experience.
‘I was diagnosed with an eating disorder two years ago but was definitely engaging in those sorts of behaviours for years prior to that. Now that they have added calories to the menu, I have been so anxious to go out to places with my friends, I find it hard to sit and explain why this is so difficult for me, especially when there are new people or people I don’t know so well coming with us’
The increase in anxiety and apprehension surrounding this implementation has affected thousands across the country. Now faced with the numbers on every visit to Nando’s or KFC, many people will either opt for the choice which is the least calorific, or neglect ordering anything at all.
‘Looking at the numbers on the menu is sometimes unbearable, I can have panic attacks, or meltdowns, or spiral and then not eat for a day afterwards. I’m lucky I have some people close to me that know how this affects me, and will either order for me, or not let me see at all’
Calories have been criticised in recent media for not portraying a balanced diet accurately. A calorie is a unit used to measure energy, and that is the same despite what food it comes from, the greater your intake, the more you should burn off with exercise. The average recommended intake for an adult to function in a day is 2000 calories, but these numbers don’t tell you what sort of foods will keep you full or will nourish you.
‘I used to log every single thing I ate into my fit bit app, I would weigh out all my food, replace meals with coffee or water, and I still never buy the ‘full fat’ version of anything. I’m recovering, but I’m not there yet.’
The waiting list, as with most NHS and free charity services, for eating disorder support, is long, with budget cuts and understaffing constantly prolonging the wait time. Turning to friends, family, and university counselling for help, they told us what they are doing to aid their recovery:
‘I almost exclusively go to independent places now, and I don’t mean all swanky healthy places, but the kebab shops, or small café bars and coffee shops. They tend to be nice anyway, and often cheaper too if you know where to go. It’s just easier for me to avoid the stress of it all’
As the cost of living crisis only worsens, with prices for almost everything increasing, quick fixes such as meal deals and value bites from chains, corner shops, and fast food outlets are far easier than battling the prices in most supermarkets, even more so in the midst of Brexit deals on international imports and local produce coming in to fruition.
‘I have been paying £40 almost every week for therapy, just so I can manage everything, and get on with my degree, but now I have taken on a second job so I can afford the counselling, and basic living in my Lancaster Accommodation. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up, the burnout is getting to me more and more.’
In a study in July 2022 by HUMEN, Lancaster ranked 79th out of 80 in the mental health league table, leaving it as almost the worst in the country, but is the government really tying to help?
Another flaw in this approach, as highlighted by MasterChef Winner Simon Wood is that restaurants and chains have to ‘adapt [their] men on the fly’ therefore the nutritional information would need ‘rewritten every day’ to keep up with emergencies or changes in suppliers.
Following the increase in groceries in lieu of the cost-of-living crisis, restaurants are searching for new suppliers that can provide quality goods, at an affordable price, therefore there will be less fixed deals with trading, as owners try and find the best deal.
Eight months after the change was implemented, those suffering with disordered eating are finding ways to adapt, while little to no improvement in terms of obesity rates have been recorded and publicised by the government. It is clear following this nationwide change, that more harm is being done than good, specifically for those battling eating disorders, many of which in the student population.