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Time to display the calories

Back in 2018, I wrote a blog discussing some of the evidence and benefits of adding calorie values to menus as part of the strategy to tackle obesity.  At that point, the UK government was proposing to introduce legislation to make this mandatory for the out of home sector in England and since then the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us the impact obesity has on health and health outcomes.  

That proposal is now a reality with regulations having been laid before parliament to ensure implementation by April 2022.  The new regulation is known as the Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021.

The new regulations are being introduced to ensure that large businesses display calorie information on menus and food labels in order to help consumers make healthier choices when eating out.  This means cafes, restaurants and takeaways with 250+ employees must provide the calorie information for food and soft drinks at the point of choice – whether that be a physical or online menu, food label or via an online or app-based food order & delivery service.

There are a few points worth highlighting from the draft regulation:

The energy content (kcal) must be provided for a single portion or, if the item is meant for consumption by more than one person, the whole item.

The size of the portion or the number of people it shall serve must also be displayed along with a statement “adults need around 2000kcal a day” (the latter is not required on a children’s only menu).

Foods in scope of the regulation include: those suitable for immediate consumption both on or off the premises; food that isn’t pre-packed or requires further preparation by the consumer before eating e.g. peeling/washing/cooking or re-heating.

There are a number of exempt foods such as: condiments provided to be added by the consumer; foods provided to hospital patients/care home residents/school children; unprocessed single ingredient foods; fresh fruit or veg; food provided by a charity.

Foods not included on the menu that are made at the express request of a customer or have been made in a different way than usual are also exempt from calorie information.

There are concerns from eating disorder charities that the new rules could exacerbate eating disorder thoughts and behaviours or increase stress for those with eating disorders.  With this in mind, the government has included a provision permitting businesses to provide a menu without calorie information at the request of the customer.

As experts in food and nutrition labelling, providing nutrition information for menus and product labels for over 20 years, AB Food Nutrition can work with you to implement the new regulation quickly, easily and cost-effectively.  We calculate the nutrient profile of your recipes based on the ingredients, quantities and cooking methods used. We can even provide suggestions on how to improve the nutritional profile of your recipes so that you can offer customers healthier choices.  For more information, please contact Anne.

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Will calorie counts on menus make us healthier?

Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are either overweight or obese – and this increases the risk of chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes.  Nowadays, a significant proportion of the food people eat is consumed outside of the home.  People are also eating out more often – the UK population consumes more than 100 million takeaways and ready-made meals in a week1!  Evidence suggests that people dining out consume 200 more calories per day than when eating at homeand so it is clear that there needs to be a mechanism to reduce the amount people consume when eating out if current obesity rates are to be halted and reversed.

As part of the government’s childhood obesity plan for action, the whole food industry (restaurants, retailers and manufacturers) has been challenged to slash calories in foods by 20% by 2024 but this alone will not tackle the complex issue of obesity.  Interestingly, 79% of people agree that menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks3.  Although many businesses already provide nutritional information on their websites only a few provide calorie labelling at the point of choice.  The point of choice can include menu boards, printed menus, chalk boards or display tags. So, with this in mind, the government proposes to introduce legislation to mandate consistent calorie labelling in England for the out of home sector.

Calorie menu labelling has already been mandatory in Ireland for a couple of years. A study into the effect of this in a hospital staff/visitor canteen found that customers made healthier choices and fewer calories were purchased, particularly by males4.

Putting calories on your menus is a public health initiative that can even benefit your business.  A recent Diabetes UK poll found that 60% of people are more likely to spend their money in an eating establishment that provides traffic light labelling, and almost as many said they would be more likely to eat where there is calorie labelling on food menus/packaging5.

Displaying the amount of calories on food and drinks for sale however is a form of food labelling and the most important rule of food labelling is that the consumer must not be misled.  It is therefore important for food businesses to have clear procedures and methods in place to ensure that calorie information is kept accurate.  If ingredients in a menu item change, the calorie information should be updated as soon as possible.

Obtaining the calorie values for all your menu items might seem a daunting task at first, but with help from AB Food Nutrition this can be done quickly, easily and cost-effectively.  We calculate the nutrient profile of your recipes based on the ingredients, quantities and cooking methods used. We can even provide suggestions on how to improve the nutritional profile of your recipes so that you can offer customers healthier choices.  For more information, please contact Anne.

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1 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/a_weighty_issue.pdf
2 Nguyen and Powell. (2014). The impact of restaurant composition among US adults: effects on energy and nutrient intakes. Public Health Nutrition 17(11) 2445-52.
3 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/calorie-reduction-the-scope-and-ambition-for-action
4 Calories on menus in Ireland – who’s counting? – Volume 74 Issue OCE4 – G.D. Ussher, S.E. Kielthy, K.A. Emerson, F.E. Douglas, O.C. Lyons, M.A.T. Flynn
5 https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/poll-food-labels-influence-spending?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=foodupfront&utm_term=210518&utm_content=organic
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