Government calorie labelling plans are “dangerous” for people with eating disorders

eating disorders calories
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Campaigners say government plans to force restaurants to label calories in restaurants risk the health and recovery of people with eating disorders.

Last week, the government announced that businesses in England with more than 250 employees would have to display calorie information on menus and labels from April 2022.

The measures are part of the government strategy to tackle obesity, and include cafes, restaurants, and takeaways.

However, many people shared how the announcement would leave them scared to eat out as they may be triggered by the calorie information.


“Ineffective” and “dangerous”

Eating disorder charity BEAT immediately criticised the move, and is encouraging people to email their MPs to ask them to oppose the legislation.

A study published in 2017 found that women with anorexia or bulimia would order “significantly fewer” calories when items were labelled compared to when they weren’t.

And a review of literature into calorie labelling for the general population concluded that it had little of the desired impact on public health. As a result, the researchers suggested pursuing other methods of tackling obesity.

Another review in 2018 found that some studies did find calorie labelling reduced the amount people ate, but only in a very small amount of low-quality studies.

Exacerbated by lockdowns

A survey of people with, or recovering from, an eating disorder during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic found that 87% reported their symptoms were worse as a result.

BEAT similarly reported it’s answering significantly more calls to its helpline in 2020/21 than in 2019/20.

Back in June 2020, BEAT warned that government obesity campaigns were making people vulnerable to an eating disorder more likely to develop one, as well as increasing symptoms for people already diagnosed.

Life-threatening consequences

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. According to BEAT, less than half of patients fully recover from it, with many remaining chronically ill.

Even before the pandemic, hospital admissions for eating disorders had risen by 37% in two years. In 2019, a quarter of the hospital admissions recorded were children.

This strategy for tackling obesity could put thousands of people’s health at risk without much evidence it will help reduce obesity. At a time when people with eating disorders are already reporting worse symptoms, this could be catastrophic.

Featured image via Flickr/Foodfacts pm

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  • Show Comments
    1. These people need to get a grip. Knowing what’s in your food in relation to both ingredients and calories is important information. Yet again the Left displaying that they’re for the few, not the many.
      On a side note, what an atrocious article. Were you paid by opponents of the legislation to write it?

    2. It’s ironic that the government are proposing these measures at a time when the work of Prof Tim Spector (KCL), his colleagues and coworkers has discredited crude calorie counting as a means of weight control. The source of the calories, when they are consumed and the physiology of the individual all play a part.
      So not only are these measures likely to cause severe problems for those with eating disorders they are unlikely to have much effect on the general level of obesity.
      They will, of course, boost the profits of the big food companies with their supposed slimming low calorie products. More profits for them equates to bigger donations to the tory party. Do I smell a, rat? Surely not.

    3. It’s ridiculous. We need a serious campaign to get High Fructose Corn Syrup out of our processed food right now. We’ve had an obesity epidemic for 2 decades, that followed its introduction around the world, starting in the USA. It is said to be more addictive than heroin. It was designed as a cheapo sweetener via an enzymatic process and blocks Leptin – the hormone that allows us to feel satiated. I found this out from one of Robert Lustig’s excellent lectures on ‘sugar’ some years ago. The manufacturers should be in prison for the deaths and misery they have caused worldwide.

      1. I’m with you all the way. Its the source of the calories not the calories per se that matters. Spector says to avoid all highly processed ingredients, corn syrup is one of those, also modified starch, corn starch, potato starch, glucose / fructose syrup etc. Anything that sounds as though it comes from a lab or factory, not from a field. It’s the food industry that’s responsible for the current obesity crisis, not calories.

    4. And of course it’s much better to ‘label restaurant calories’, than to do anything that might actually HELP, such as mandated school fields (Like the ones the Tories and new labour ‘sold off’ to developers), and reducing the focus on the 4 Rs to add much more PE time.

      Heavily subsidised gyms and other sprts venues would also help – if working people had the time to go to them.

      As someone for whom most of my life, I have been interested in buying the HIGHEST calorie food, to burn it off, calorie packaging has been very useful. WTF point of it is there in restaurants though?

      The problems are really endemic lack of exercise, lack of free time for workers, high cost of private facilities, and deep, never-ending physique destroying stress.

      It will be a cold day in Hades before the Tories, either in the Conservative party or New New Labour, give a flying shit about the plight of the poor workers and normal people in this country.

      The most they think of us is how to spin a story so it doens’t sound so bad, like it’s for our benefit, lol.

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