Will compulsory calorie labelling on menus reduce obesity levels in Scotland?

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts in his final column on the Scottish governments plans to make it mandatory for restaurants, pubs and takeaways in Scotland to include the number of calories in our food and drinks.

In April this year, Maree Todd MSP – Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport in the Scottish Government launched a public consultation on plans to make calorie labelling on menus mandatory in restaurants, takeaways, cafes and even hospitals. This consultation fulfils a pledge made in the SNP’s 2021 Out of Home Action Plan. The Plan builds on the commitments made in the 2018 Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan and recommendations made by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) to Scottish Ministers in 2019. Mandating calorie labelling at the point of choice was one potential way to support the Out of Home (OOH) sector to make a key contribution in improving the dietary health of all Scottish citizens. Pre-packed food is not within the scope of these proposals as there are already requirements to provide nutrition information for pre-packed food. Pre-packed food for direct sale (PPDS) is within the scope of these proposals. Similar legislation is already in place in England, where any food serving outlet with over 250 employees have been legally required to display calories since April 2022.

In a recent survey Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity found 95% of Scots affected by eating disorders would be negatively impacted by calorie labelling on menus, with many worried it would increase feelings of fear and guilt. So, what happens now? Will this add fuel to the fire? There has been an increase of people suffering from various eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia since the last decade. Young people have been facing the brunt of this epidemic as peer pressure and constant shaming on social media has led to some even resorting to suicide. This policy of the Scottish government has the potential to wreak havoc with people’s lives and exacerbate the problem even more. As an organisation, we believe focus should be on informing and educating people about the positive or negative impact about the food and drinks they consume on a daily basis. Young people should be exposed to cooking from a very young age eg. Primary and secondary schools.

Consultant Psychiatrist in eating disorders Dr Stephen Anderson, said: “There is no good evidence that this kind of calorie labelling is effective in reducing obesity. We also hear from people with eating disorders that this would have a detrimental effect on their eating disorder. Calories are one aspect of nutritional information but on its own this figure is not particularly helpful”.

“Suggesting that people need a specific number of calories does not take into account the individual’s physiology, gender, race and activity. This could be particularly harmful for children and young people where limiting calorie and nutritional intake can have significant impacts on development. A wider public health initiative looking at social and economic determinants of obesity and improving the population’s nutrition is likely to be more beneficial than listing calorie content on menus”.

We completely agree with the above statement as this is not how food should be consumed. Cooking and eating should be a joy and is meant to be spontaneous and inspiring for all who indulge in this life sustaining activity. It does not make sense to have people removing their calculators or apps to decide what they can and cannot have depending on the total calories highlighted on the menu. This will have a negligible impact on the very issue the government is trying to address and eradicate.

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Peeblesshire News and readers of my column for supporting my personal and organisations views and opinions over the years. Thank You.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 26th August 2022

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