Calorie Labelling will be Disastrous for Eating Disorders – Liberal Article
TW – eating disorders
The government’s latest plans to tackle obesity are a letdown to us all. From April 2022, all menus will have to display the calorific information of the food (and alcoholic drinks) they sell. Not only is this deeply insensitive, but it will also not help to reduce obesity.
My problem with these plans is not in their intention. Almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese and childhood obesity rates are soaring. The pandemic has not helped either, with over 40% of adults putting on an average of half a stone over the last 15 months.
My problem instead lies with the mental health issues that the Calorie Labelling Regulations will exacerbate and the government’s sheer lack of reasoned thought. Eating disorders are already on the rise in the UK, particularly among children – with a rise in referrals of 46% in 2020. Meanwhile, calls to the eating disorder charity, Beat, rose 173% last year. Placing calorie labels on menus will not reduce obesity; it will cause panic and distress among vulnerable people.
The dangers of actively encouraging calorie counting cannot be understated, both for those with and without pre-existing eating disorders. It threatens to enable and endorse unhealthy practices of obsessing over food consumption.
Health is a unique and complex matter to every individual, yet the government is treating it with a one-size-fits-all approach. They have mistakenly correlated weight and calorific intake with health; yet have ignored all of the other things that contribute to one’s health. A balanced diet and regular exercise, for example, are far more important than how much one eats.
Also, all menus will be required to state that ‘adults need around 2000 calories a day’. This directly contradicts the NHS guidelines which recognise individual calorific needs differ based on a range of factors. This universal approach to health is not only dangerous, it is also misleading and perpetuates a false health standard.
This whole policy reeks of decision-makers being out of touch with the general population and with the causes of obesity. Using calorie labels to tackle obesity sounds like a good idea until one begins to think about its implications.
Even if one ignores all the mental health issues with this policy (like the government has done) and focuses solely on the intended outcome, the government’s reports still make for grim reading. Disappointingly, the government’s Impact Assessment on this policy says the quality of research into calorie labelling’s effectiveness is ‘questionable.’ They refer to three studies, one where calorie consumption dropped by 52 calories, one where it dropped by 96, and one where there was no noticeable change. Even taking the most effective study, which claims that people will eat nearly 100 fewer calories, it doesn’t seem worth it.
A 2019 YouGov study found that only one in ten eat out/get a takeaway at least once a week. Very few people will actually ‘benefit’ from this policy enough for it to make a difference to their long-term health. Eating 100 fewer calories (again an optimistic estimate) once a week simply isn’t going to tackle obesity.
How the government can proceed with this policy when there is such limited evidence in its favour and so many negative repercussions astounds me.
Instead, if the government is really committed to tackling obesity, they should look to tackle the systemic causes of mass obesity and stop placing the onus on individual action. This report from the British Medical Association on the correlation between poverty and health identifies ‘food poverty’ as a serious issue. Those on the poverty line eat more processed foods and sugary foods. Conversely, those on higher incomes can afford healthier, fresher foods and so are less likely to be overweight or obese.
If we tackle poverty, we can tackle obesity. Unfortunately, the government has shown its true colours over the last year and they blatantly have little interest in tackling poverty, particularly child poverty. The fact that Marcus Rashford has done more for child food poverty than the government says everything that needs to be said about the government’s thoughts on the matter. Incidentally, children, the ones who need the government’s help the most, are the ones who are most vulnerable to the Calorie Labelling Regulations.
Whilst something needs to be done about the increasing obesity crisis, the Calorie Labelling Regulations are not, and never will be, the answer. I fear the repercussions of this policy will inevitably exacerbate the growing eating disorder and mental health crisis.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Luca Boyd
Point of Information
Calorie labelling is ineffective and exceptionally harmful – A Conservative Response
I could not agree more with my colleague’s article. Luca presents the range of issues stemming from putting calories on menus at restaurants, whilst displaying the inefficiency in this move to actually reduce obesity rates. Ultimately, obesity is an eating disorder, so why are the government putting in actions that can only really heighten a range of other disorders? Putting calories on menus is probably one of the most ineffective ways in which we can go about decreasing obesity rates. Yet it is one of the most effective ways in which we can cause more panic for those with eating disorders.
A huge worry for many recovering from eating disorders is eating out in public. This stage of recovery is often incredibly overwhelming for those in recovery alone. Adding numbers onto the menu next to meals can only make this step harder. It breeds panic.
We need to move away from the demonisation of calories in our food. We need calories to fuel our bodies. We need energy. The fact that the government is suggesting that adding calories to menus would be a successful tool in tackling obesity is shocking. All it does is perpetuate the notion that calories are bad. We can only go downwards from there.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Mental health has taken a backseat – A Labour Response
This is a brilliant article from Luca outlining the likely devastating effects of calorie labelling. It’s not merely an innocent solution to obesity that the government got wrong. Rather it’s mental health taking a backseat under Johnson’s government. Again.
I actually wrote about this very topic about a year ago and shared Luca’s sentiment completely. It’s a shame nothing has changed between now and then, particularly given the backlash at both times.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out how triggering calorie labelling can be for those suffering or recovering from an eating disorder. It reinforces obsessions that people have worked tirelessly to lose. Beyond this, many more people are affected by disordered eating – behaviours that have symptoms similar to eating disorders but are actually normalised by society. Calorie labelling is dangerous for anyone affected by this; it’s a promotion of diet culture and disordered eating habits.
So what’s the solution? Luca’s suggestion of tackling poverty first and foremost is a sound one. Additionally, though, education is incredibly important here. Calories and numbers matter less than balanced diets and healthy lifestyles. We need people to be aware of this rather than forcing obsessions and promoting disordered eating.
The government have got this so wrong. And to the detriment of so many’s mental health.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo