This May, it was announced by the UK Government that from April 2022, all large businesses will be required to display calorie information on their menus and non-pre-packaged food labels in order to tackle the increasingly high levels of obesity in the country. It can’t be denied that obesity is a huge problem, with overweight and obesity-related conditions costing the NHS £6.1bn every year. However, the introduction of this known toxic obsession could do more damage than good. Although the government claim the aim of the decision is ‘to ensure people are able to make more informed, healthier choices’, this will consequently trigger pre-existing and developing eating disorders across the country.
Calorie-counting apps have been strongly criticised in the past, with thousands of people claiming their obsession led to low self-esteem partnered with high self-criticism. Although, if used effectively, they can enable users to track their food’s specific nutritional properties, this habit can unknowingly lead to the development of common eating disorders. If these potentially harmful methods are being blamed for multiple weight-related conditions, why are we casually allowing the government to implement this into our everyday lives? Ironically, the announcement was also made during Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May 2021). Although the government seem to advocate mental health, advertising ways of support from the NHS, it seems absurd that this questionable decision should be introduced during this time. As a result, a petition was created to try to prevent this change from going ahead, gaining over 18,000 signatures overall. The petition’s claim that ‘eating out should be a pleasurable and enjoyable experience, not one dominated by anxiety’ is completely credible. No one can deny the UK’s love for eating out, but surely this would be deterred by our paranoia as we realise the meal we have been consistently choosing for years has more than half our recommended daily amount of calories?
Despite the harmful effects of the decision for some members of the public, it cannot be ignored that this could benefit some others. For example, adults on pre-existing diet plans, such as Weight Watchers or Slimming World, may find this helpful in tracking progress. If more information was given about the dietary and nutritional information of the meal, members would be able to use this to define the rest of their day – they could alter previous meals to be more nutritional leading up to the meal, enabling them to still eat the meal they want, rather than feel guilty. As a result, this would prevent them from being deterred from eating another meal purely for its health properties. This could also stop them from making significant changes to their diet in order to fit into the recommended daily amount of calories; instead, making more informed decisions throughout the rest of the day.
Although this could provide more of a convenience for some, people’s health is ultimately more important. Statistics prove obesity is an issue in our country, not only for adults, but also for children – 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese. School dinners have already been made more nutritious due to the work of Jamie Oliver, informing children on which foods are healthier. I believe the education of this is significantly more important than calorie counting itself. Do we really want to be teaching children to be overly aware of their calorie intake as soon as they go to their first restaurant? As adults, many of us have days of low body confidence, blaming ourselves for the food we have put into our bodies; surely we don’t want our young children feeling this way? Instead of strict calorie counting, children should be educated on having their 5 a day and eating healthier snacks – our children should not be dragged into the toxic culture of calorie counting so early, as this will only affect them in later life. Bringing in this decision will clearly make all ages conscious of their weight, constantly making comparisons. This is something we tend to deal with as young adults, not young children, so why should we enforce it?
Although the government claim this decision is to prevent obesity, calorie counting does not always correlate with health. Although eating strictly 2000 calories per day may seem like you are sticking to goals, unless these calories are spent on nutritious food, overall health may not improve. For example, calorie counting will not necessarily decrease issues such as cardiovascular disease if you are not eating a varied diet. Instead, it is necessary to keep a healthy, balanced diet. Even if someone with the health issue is sticking to 2000 calories per day, or eating in a calorie deficit, if these calories are spent intaking unhealthy foods, the condition will not improve. It is imperative that this assumption is not spread due to the fact that cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death worldwide, with 1 death every 3 minutes here in the UK. Due to the significance of this disease in our country, the government must not confuse perceptions by assuming that calorie counting will reduce the number of people suffering from weight-related conditions. Putting calories on every item of food we see will naturally influence people to rely on these figures, convincing themselves that they will be healthy as long as they follow calorie practices.
It is completely clear that obesity needs to be tackled in our country, with 2/3 of adults in England overweight or living with obesity. However, placing calories on all food menus is not the way forward. As previously discussed, this promotes a worrying diet culture from a very young age and our children should not have to deal with this pressure. Instead, I propose that nutritional information should be available if requested in order to benefit those effectively using calorie counting as a dieting method. However, this would not be immediately obvious on menus in order to prevent people with eating disorders from being instantly triggered when seeing the reality of restaurant food. When calorie counting is linked so closely to eating disorders, the decision seems completely unjustified. Ultimately, we need to be more educated on making healthier choices and not controlled by calories, with a better knowledge of what is nutritious and what is not. Eating out should be for pleasure, not a hindrance – and if we are constantly paranoid of the calorie intake of our meals, how can we truly move forward?
Words by: Holly Harrison
Edited by: Isla Aimee Rush