Eating disorders charities attack plans to add calories to Scottish menus

Charities supporting people with eating disorders have hit out at new plans to list calorie counts on menus in Scotland, claiming that the move could exacerbate conditions such as anorexia nervosa.

Restaurants and cafes are also to be encouraged to reduce portion sizes. Picture: Getty Images

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) on Wednesday revealed a sweeping set of measures to reform the “out of home” (OOH) eating sector in an attempt to combat obesity in Scotland.

One of the proposals, to be put before the Scottish Government is to make it mandatory for restaurants and cafés to list calorie counts on every menu item, which it hopes will make people consider their choice when eating a meal or a snack.

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However, eating disorder charities said that being forced to read calorie counts could have a “negative health effect” on people struggling to recover from an illness such as anorexia or bulimia.

Andrew Radford, chief executive of eating disorder support charity Beat, said: “Requiring calorie counts on menus risks exacerbating eating disorders and so causing great distress for people suffering from these severe mental illnesses.

“Campaigns aimed at reducing obesity are important for our public health, but they must take into account the negative health effect they risk having on people with eating disorders, which themselves can be life-altering and life-limiting.”

In addition to calorie count labelling, restaurants and cafés will also have to take steps to reduce portion size and improve recipe formulation to make meals more healthy.

An an estimated 25 per cent of the calories consumed in Scotland come from foods eaten outside of the home, according to a report from FSS.

The organisation said Scots made around 960 million visits to “out of home” outlets in 2018, equating to each person, on average, visiting four times and spending £20 each week.

Mandatory calorie labelling was introduced in the US in May 2018, in several states in Australia from February 2012 and in Ontario, Canada from 2017. Comparable regulations are planned for Ireland, while the UK Government consulted on a similar plan for England, although no such measure has yet been introduced.

FSS said the Scottish Government could work with English authorities to align a roll-out of calorie labelling across the whole of the UK.

Heather Peace, head of public health nutrition at Food Standards Scotland, said: “Food Standards Scotland has already identified the issue of eating disorders in relation to calorie labelling.

“This will be considered fully as part of our planned impact assessments, which will involve stakeholder groups to ensure a wide range of views are taken into account, and any further evidence reviewed.”

Under the new measures put forward by FSS, children’s menus will be subject to a code of practice, while restaurants and cafés will also have to take steps to reduce portion size and improve recipe formulation to make meals more healthy.

The hospitality industry has also spoken out against the measure, which it has described as a “retrograde step”, which could force restaurants and cafés out of business due to the increased costs associated with assessing the calorie content of individual meals.

The proposals will now be considered by the Scottish Government.