Is Calorie Information on Menus Useful For Weight Management?

This is a very controversial topic and one which I think needs much more discussion around. Recently there has been more talk around whether calories should be printed on menus in restaurants. Everyone will have their own opinions on this and I invite you to share yours either in the comments of this article or via email.

Before sharing with you my personal opinions on this topic I want to set the scene. There has been research conducted on this topic. One meta-analysis of three randomised controlled trials (this is the highest quality study which can be done) showed that on average calorie information on menus reduced purchased calories by 49kcal per meal. In addition to this some other smaller studies have shown that this initiative can reduce calories purchased by 72kcal per meal. Overall, the researchers concluded that whilst much more research is needed on larger scales to suggest whether this is a good idea, they at present believe that it’s a harmless initiative.

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I totally understand those of you who might be reading this thinking that when you go out to eat you want to enjoy yourself and not focus on the calorie content of your food. Although at the same time we need to be aware that people are eating out more regularly than ever before – so maybe what was once a treat is not longer seen as just that. On average 25% of adults and 20% of children are eating out at least once a week. Note, there will be people who are eating out considerably more than this. When we eat out there’s also more chance that we order starters, mains, sides and desserts (and maybe even a glass of wine or two). As you can imagine going all out every time you eat out can add up. As a population we are currently in a health crisis with the World Health Organization predicting that 34% of England will be obese (not including overweight individuals) by 2025. Therefore, these initiatives have been set out to try and fight these statistics to ensure that these predictions don’t become facts.

Below I’ve listed out the pros and cons of having your calories labelled on menus.

Pros:

-        An attempt to make some change in the UK to help look after the health of the population.

-        Calories are easily interpreted and fairly straight forward to understand.

-        Research shows some small drive to reducing the number of calories purchased.

Cons:

-        Calories are a reductionist approach – not all calories are equal and this strategy ignores micronutrients and calorie utilisation.

-        No education around the meals or individual foods and simply places all of its value on one number.

-        Accuracy is likely to be low. How can restaurants ensure that their measures are correct as smaller restaurants are less likely to be able to utilise trained staff and appropriate energy measurements. Once the calories have been calculated not all chefs measure everything to a tee when serving dishes (especially in independent restaurants).

-        Counting calories can take its toll on some individual’s mental wellbeing who may become possessed by the number of calories they are eating. This could lead to eating disorders and poor relationship with food.

-        We are all unique and have different requirements.

-        Individuals may become reliant on the menus to make decisions around food. Whereas proper education around food may be a more beneficial strategy to managing obesity and the health of the UK population.

-        Places more emphasis on weight than overall health.

As I mentioned at the start I would let you into my opinion on this. I think we have to be realistic that people are eating out more regularly that they have done in the past and we do need to take some responsibility and be aware of what we’re eating. Although at the same time weight gain and obesity is incredibly multifaceted and therefore, I don’t think that this initiative alone is going to help with the UK’s obesity crisis. Not all calories are equal, neither are calories the bee all and end all. It’s important to remember that weight does not define health. One can be overweight and healthy whilst someone else can be ripped and incredibly unhealthy (nutritionally, metabolically, hormonally and mentally).

Overall, I think more research is required and I don’t think calories alone are going to solve the UK’s problem. It is important that people start understanding their food independent of weight.

 

Pineda, E., Sanchez-Romero, L. M., Brown, M., Jaccard, A., Jewell, J., Galea, G., ... & Breda, J. (2018). Forecasting future trends in obesity across Europe: the value of improving surveillance. Obesity facts11(5), 360-371.

Crockett, R. A., King, S. E., Marteau, T. M., Prevost, A. T., Bignardi, G., Roberts, N. W., ... & Jebb, S. A. (2018). Nutritional labelling for healthier food or non‐alcoholic drink purchasing and consumption. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2).