Regulations came into effect on 6 April, requiring restaurants, cafes, and takeaways in England to provide calorie information on menus and food displays, including those online. The legislation applies only to businesses with over 250 employees, with exemptions for charities, hospitals, care homes, and temporary menu items. But this is still an important milestone in government obesity policy—an area where promised interventions are not always delivered.
The global burden of diet-related ill health is growing. In England, 68% of men and 60% of women are overweight or obese. Recent estimates suggest a huge jump in rates of childhood obesity. Over 40% of 10-11 year olds were overweight or obese in 2020-21 compared with 35.2% the year before, and obesity rates are twice as high among the most deprived children as in the least deprived.
The introduction of calorie labelling regulations should be applauded. Up to a quarter of adults’ calories are consumed outside the home. The policy should have some, albeit limited, effect through changes to consumer behaviour and reformulation. One systematic review found that calorie labelling on menus led to a 7.8% (95% confidence interval 2.5% to 13.1%) reduction in calories purchased. Other systematic reviews found limited evidence of a reduction in calories purchased9 or menu reformulation, although this may be because of a lack of larger studies. In the US, where calorie labelling has been mandatory for large chains since 2018, reductions have been reported in both calories purchased and the number of calories in food items. In New South Wales, Australia calorie labelling has also had a positive influence on consumer behaviour.
British Medical Journal/May 4, 2022