Industry Issue: Can stating calories on menus tackle obesity?


As the government looks to tackle the growing obesity issue, restaurants are facing growing pressure to provide calorie and nutritional information on their menus.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America is already making moves to require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus. Whilst here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency is also in talks to bring the same initiative here. There is also increasing pressure from the Local Government Association, who state that consumers should be given all the insight to make an informed choice when it comes to eating out. There is also research to suggest that calorie labeling can influence the choices people make and lead to a healthier diet.

This growing demand for better labeling is part of a government lead initiative that puts a collective responsibility onto food manufacturers, retailers and the hospitality industry to help tackle the obesity crisis.

A study by Mckinsey and Company found that reversing obesity in the UK could save the NHS around £776m each year. The study calls upon restaurants to reduce portion sizes of meals and snacks and to display nutrition information and label foods that can be regulated by government on menus and shelf-choices in grab and go restaurants and fast food outlets.

It’s not just the government bodies that support the need for calorie labeling. A BrandTrack survey found that 58% of the public also wants better nutritional information on menus.

Experts believe that by posting calories on menus and menu boards and providing other nutrient information in writing in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments will fill a critical information gap and help consumers make informed and healthful dietary choices.

However, there is also an argument that consumers are less susceptible to calorie information in an eating-out setting. Some of those within the industry also argue that for many food-serving operators it will be impossible to correctly state calories in dishes. Furthermore, labeling could lead to pubs relying on processed and pre-made food, over freshly prepared dishes.

There is also added complexity and cost for restaurants required to state calories, with variations occurring between sites.

Of course any initiatives that aim to reduce obesity are welcomed, however menu labeling does pose a number of challenges for restaurants. An alternative for restaurants could be that they identify lighter or healthy dishes as part of their menu design instead.

We relish a challenge, so if you are looking to help your customers make informed, healthy decisions with a creative menu layout, give us a call on 01202 727070 to discuss your brief and find out how we can help.

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