Number 10 says it won’t consult further on anti-obesity restaurant calorie count plan amid concern from eating disorder charities
The Government will make it mandatory for restaurants and takeaways to display calorie counts. (PA)
Downing Street has confirmed there will be no further consultation on a plan to make restaurants and takeaways display calorie counts despite warnings from eating disorder campaigners that it could make recovery harder.
Number 10 said measures to display the calorific value of foods had been “consulted on in the past” and defended moves to provide the public “with all the necessary information” needed as part of a major anti-obesity drive.
The move comes after eating disorder campaigners and MPs told PoliticsHome about concerns over calorie counts — explicitly advised against for people in treatment for conditions like anorexia and bulimia — and asked to be involved in talks with the Government on the new guidance.
Under the anti-obesity push launched by Boris Johnson on Monday, restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 staff will be asked to display calorie information for their food.
Ministers pointed to research suggesting people consume “around 200 more calories a day” eating out compared to eating at home.
The Government is also planning to launch a consultation “before the end of the year” on whether or not to extend the calorie-counting measure to alcoholic drinks, with research estimating that booze consumption accounts for nearly 10% of all calories consumed by those who drink.
It comes as part of a wider crackdown on obesity in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with being overweight increasing a person’s risk of serious illness or death from the disease.
But eating disorder charity Beat told PoliticsHome last week that such moves risked “undermining” recovery and causing “serious distress” to the estimated 1.25 million Brits with eating disorders.
The charity said experts on eating disorders “should be consulted as well as weight management specialists so that the potential impact on people with eating disorders can be considered and hopefully employed to mitigate it”.
However Number 10 on Monday ruled out further consultation on the move before the restaurant measures are introduced.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “There is a consultation which will take place on part of this which is making firms put a calorie label on alcoholic drinks.
“Other measures have been consulted on in the past.
“What we’re trying to do is provide the public with all the necessary information to ensure that they can make informed choices.”
Asked what they would say to eating disorder charities concerned about the problem, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “What we’re trying to do is trying to tackle one of the biggest health crises the country faces.
“And one of the things which we think can be helpful is to provide people with information which they need to make informed choices.”
A 2018 consultation of calorie labelling outside of the home heard warnings that such a policy “may be challenging for people with eating disorders”.
But it concluded: “Calorie labelling has been shown to be effective in helping consumers make informed and healthier choices where it has been tested.”
The Government’s new anti-obesity drive will also see TV and web adverts for food high in fat, sugar or salt banned on TV and online before 9pm when children are most likely to see them.
Ministers will also look at going further, with a consultation on whether the online ban “should apply at all times of the day” in a bid to defuse what it calls a health “time bomb”.
Public Health England says that almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese, with one in three children leaving primary school overweight or obese.
Launching the initiative on Monday, Boris Johnson said he was he was "way overweight" when he was admitted to intensive care earlier this year after contracting coronavirus.
"I've always wanted to lose weight for ages and ages," he said. "I think like many people, I struggle with my weight."
But the drive marks a change of heart from the Prime Minister, who has previously railed against “nanny-state” measures such as a levy on sugary foods to help the country slim down.
Number 10 on Monday said remained “no plans to extend the existing sugar tax at the moment”.