Calorie labels will fuel eating disorders

MPs are calling for the government to immediately scrap its plans to require calorie labels on food in restaurants, cafés, and takeaways due to fears they could exacerbate eating disorders.

A report by the House of Commons women and equalities committee expressed concern that mandatory calorie labelling would contribute to a growth in eating disorders and disordered eating.

It heard evidence from eating disorder survivors and representative organisations that calorie labelling could be a trigger for people with eating disorders, regardless of their weight, who are hyper-vigilant to calorie consumption.

The government has said it will legislate to introduce calorie labelling for businesses in England with over 250 employees. In her evidence to the committee, health minister Nadine Dorries suggested calorie labelling would be helpful to people who are unaware of the calorific content of foods sold outside the home. “We want people to know what it is that they are consuming so that they can make better choices, but we are aware of those people with eating disorders and making sure that we protect them as much as we can,” Dorries said.

The committee also criticised the government’s current obesity strategy for being “at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating unhealthy behaviour”. It said it was disappointed to learn that there had been no reviews of the effectiveness of the current or previous obesity strategies, and said it could not support “much-criticised and unevaluated weight-loss policies”. It called on the government to urgently commission an independent review of the strategy to determine the evidence base for its policies within three months.

In January 2021, researchers at the University of Cambridge found that government campaigns over the last 30 years around obesity have been largely unsuccessful due to problems with implementation, lack of learning from past successes or failures, and a reliance on trying to persuade individuals to change their behaviour rather than tackling unhealthy environments.

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