Would you eat the burger knowing it had almost 6,00 calories in it? Others would recoil with horror. If you can see the calories, you will know exactly what you are eating. As our research has shown, menu labeling could be an effective way to change eating habits in the country.
According to research, the British are increasingly ordering take-out food and eating out rather than cooking at home. According to our earlier study, a quarter (25%) of UK adults and 55% of UK children order takeaway food or eat out at least once per week. Food prepared outside the home is more calorific, higher in sugar, fat and salt, and less nutritious than food prepared inside. Eating out is an important and large commercial sector, but it also contributes to obesity and diseases like type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.
Read more: Local takeaways create a double burden for obesity
Still not mandatory
Menu labeling in the UK is not mandatory. Menu labelling was included in the government’s Public Health Responsibilities Deal of 2011. Since then, several establishments have implemented menu labeling.
We found recently that of the 100 top chain restaurants located in the UK, 42 provide nutritional information online. Of these, 14 offer menu labeling voluntarily. The UK government’s Child Obesity plan included a proposal for mandatory menu labeling. A public consultation ended in December last year, but there has not been an announcement of a final policy.
Other countries have introduced mandatory menu labeling, including the US and some parts of Australia.
Labeled menus indicate healthier food
The menus of the largest UK chains that display energy information on their food are lower in salt and fat than those sold by their competitors.
Menu labeling is often hailed as a means to help people make healthier choices. However, several reviews, including a recent Cochrane Review, found that the effect of menu labels on purchases and consumption was only marginal. The evidence we have suggests that menu labeling is not always beneficial in terms of helping consumers to make healthier choices. Instead, it may be useful in encouraging restaurants to offer healthier food and drinks. It is impossible to make improvements without nutritional information.
Nutritional information can only be helpful if the data is accurate. In a 2018 study , the opinions of Irish food service businesses on voluntary menu labeling were found to be hampered by concerns over potential inaccuracies of calorie information as well as a lack of training in how to best provide quality calorie data.
Read more: Can food have negative calories? Nutritionist debunks the idea
If food outlets are mandated to provide menu labeling, they will need greater support and training to do so. But it may also increase the demand for more accurate, efficient and accessible methods of data collection ( typically laboratory or electronic database analysis ), promising easier ways to account for the nutritional quality of what’s on restaurant menus.
Should the nanny be at home?
Labeling is not a popular idea everywhere. Who doesn’t like to blow their budget on the occasional all-you-can-eat buffet? Eating out is no longer a rare thing. It has become a habit.
The government found that the public strongly supports menu labeling. The government, through the Childhood Obesity Plan, is looking at many ways to encourage us to make healthier food choices. Menu labelling should not be seen as the only policy but as just one among many.
A 6,000-calorie hamburger is an extreme case. When you last ate at a restaurant, did you even know the number of calories you consumed?