Calories on menus: do they work?

Calorie counts on menus and fast food: are they a weapon against obesity, or just more nannying from the Government?

Last summer, The Real Greek became the first restaurant chain in the country to include calorie counts of all dishes on its menus. Since then, Pret A Manger, Wimpy and the Camden Food Company have followed its lead. Pizza Hut, Harvester and several pub chains are considering making local trials national. Within two years, calories on menus could be the rule.

They are all trailblazers for an initiative from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which believes that providing calories on menus will help us to make healthy eating choices. A national consultation ends this week and, if there is enough support from health bodies, consumers and restaurants, the FSA will push for a voluntary roll-out in all restaurants from this summer.

Yet some have raised voices of concern. Actually, say some experts, putting calories on menus makes no sense if you want to create a healthy attitude to food. ‘Giving people information like this doesn’t change their behaviour,’ says Professor Andrew Hill, an eating psychologist.

And those helping people with eating disorders worry that it may promote food anxiety. ‘There is a real feel of nannying about this,’ says Emma Healey, of the Eating Disorders Association, now named Beat. ‘Calorie-counting is joyless.’

Do you think having calorie counts on menus will really make a difference to what people order? Perhaps they will end up compensating for choosing a low-cal option by eating more when they get home?

Or is it necessary to publish nutritional information to make people more aware of what they are eating, as calorie moderation is an effective and healthy route to weight control?


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