22 Apr 2022

When was it a legal requirement to add calories on menus?

From April 2022 it has become law in the UK that large food restaurants and companies will now be required to highlight the calories on their menus. Regulations apply to those with over 250 employees, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways. The change has sparked controversy and caused a lot of debate.

Whilst obesity is a growing problem in the UK, so are mental health disorders such as eating disorders. Both being highly dangerous problems for individuals – how will this new requirement affect them?

What are calories?

Calories are a measure for the amount of energy that an item of food or drink contains.

An average man needs to consume 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy body weight, while the average woman should consume around 2,000 calories a day.

The amount of calories one person needs will be individual to them, depending on age, weight and levels of physical activity.

Calories can be expended through activities like exercise or walking, but when we consume more calories than we expend, this is one factor that can lead to weight gain.

Why have calories been added to menus?

The government has said that the new calorie displays will help the public to make healthier choices when eating out.

This is one step in an action plan created by the government to help tackle obesity. They have said it will ensure people are more informed on their eating habits.

Public health minister, Jo Churchill said: “These measures form an important building block in our strategy to support and encourage people in achieving and maintaining a healthier weight.”

He continued: “Our aim is to make it as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices for themselves and their families, both in restaurants and at home. That is why we want to make sure everyone has access to accurate information about the food and drink we order.”

Image of strawberries accompanied by the a quote reading "It's estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder"

Pros of showing calories on menus

  • By only requiring the large businesses to label calories on menus it won’t impact small independent businesses. It will also ensure those who might find the requirement more difficult are not impacted.
  • Provides information about the food that individuals are consuming
  • Has potential to reduce negative eating habits / decreasing obesity

Cons of showing calories on menus

  • Potential to negatively affect individuals’ relationship with food
  • Become a trigger for those with eating disorders
  • Create guilt or shame when eating

What the professionals say

Making calories on menus mandatory can contribute to harmful eating disorder thoughts and behaviours worsening, according to Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity.

Tom Quinn, the charity's director of external affairs, said there was evidence that calorie information causes anxiety and distress for people affected by eating disorders.

"It can increase a fixation on restricting calories for those with anorexia or bulimia, or increase feelings of guilt for those with binge eating disorder," he said.

"There is also very limited evidence that the legislation will lead to changed eating habits among the general population."

Beat told the BBC 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and said it had "continually asked" the government to consider the impact on people affected by eating disorders and to consult "eating disorder clinicians and experts by experience at every stage of the process".

The Department of Health and Social Care said obesity was one of the biggest health issues the country faced and that food labelling played an important role in helping people make healthier choices.

A spokeswoman added people were used to seeing nutritional information on products sold in supermarkets.

The government said its policy has been informed by research and it had consulted "extensively" with mental health charities and experts.

Winner of MasterChef: The Professionals, Sven Hanson Britt tweeted that the move is a “terrible” thing for the restaurant industry.

“The law kicks in for ‘large hospitality businesses’ to display calorie info on menus. What a terrible, terrible thing to happen to the hospitality industry and a waste of time, money and a potential danger,” he wrote in a Twitter thread.

“The obsession with calories and calorie counting has proven to be dangerous, potentially leading to eating disorders like bulimia,” he continued. “Kids will grow up in restaurants, hotels and cafes only looking at that little number below a dish. Choices will be made based on a number alone. The love of flavour, ingredients, history, cooking craft or nutrition will be lost and masked by a newly perceived focus.”

Final thoughts on making calories on menus mandatory

So, what do you think of the new law? Will it change your eating habits? And do you think this will be a positive or negative move going forward?

There are both pros and cons to the move but it's important if you or a loved one have been affected by this article or are suffering with an eating disorder do not hesitate to get in contact with our treatment advisors. They are here to help you.