New calorie labelling law for UK ‘out of home’ sector comes into force

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5 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Friends together in a pub choosing what to eat from menu

A new calorie labelling law has come into force this week, making it obligatory for the ‘out of home’ sector, including restaurants and delis, to show the calorie count of non-prepackaged meals they offer on their menus.

Restaurants and other outlets employing over 250 staff must offer customers printed and online menus with calories information of the food they offer. This also includes third party platforms and food delivery apps.

The daily recommended calorie limits will also need to be listed on physical and digital menus and labels.

Exemptions to the rule apply to food that is on a seasonal menu for 30 days or less in a year, and any alcoholic drink over 1.2% ABV.

Beyond restaurants, the law will also apply to cafes, pubs, fast-food services, specialist food stores, delicatessens, sweet shops, bakeries, takeaways or cafés inside bigger venues such as supermarkets or cinemas, contract catering, and domestic transport businesses including planes, trains and ferries.

The Government has asked smaller businesses to consider calorie labels but has not made it mandatory.

The Government says the new legislation will be enforced by local authorities and the Department of Health and Social Care. Not complying with the new law could see businesses fined £2,500.

The new legislation is part of the Government’s aim to tackle the obesity epidemic in the UK. According to recent data, around 64% of adults in England are classified as overweight or obese.

Forty percent of children are currently leaving primary school either overweight or obese. Last year, childhood obesity reached its highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

In Year 6 pupils, the number of obese children had increased from 21% in the year 2019/2020 to 25.5% in 2020/2021. Meanwhile in Reception-age children, the level rose from 9.9% to 14.4%.

It is hoped by introducing such legislation, some businesses may find new ways to serve healthier, lower calorie options for customers.

Maggie Throup, Public Health Minister said in a Government statement: “It is crucial that we all have access to the information we need to maintain a healthier weight, and this starts with knowing how calorific our food is. We are used to knowing this when we are shopping in the supermarket, but this isn’t the case when we eat out or get a takeaway.

“As part of our efforts to tackle disparities and level up the nation’s health, these measures are an important building block to making it as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices.”

In a survey conducted on calorie reduction from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, nearly 80% of people said they would like to see the number of calories on menus.

Some chain restaurants are already using calorie labelling such as LEON, Wetherspoon, and McDonald’s, which first introduced calorie labels to its menu in 2012.

Not all of the UK’s hospitality sector is ready for the new legislation however, according to Kate Nicholls, CEO of the association UKHospitality. She told the BBC the legislation has arrived at the “worst possible time for thousands of businesses struggling to survive“.

She added: “We’ve long called for a delay to the implementation of calorie labelling, and we’d like to see a grace period post-April to allow businesses breathing space in which to implement the new rules without the risk of unnecessary enforcement action from day one,

“It’s completely unfair to expect businesses devastated by Covid to all of a sudden introduce complicated and costly new labelling when they’ve much more pressing matters to attend to – recouping their losses of the past 24-months for a start.”

Eating disorder charity Beat has also said the law could cause more damage to the health of those who are dealing with an eating disorder.

Following the law’s implementation this week, the charity tweeted: “We’re extremely disappointed that the government is making calories on menus mandatory in England from 6 April. We know it causes anxiety for people affected by eating disorders. We know it can increase fixations on restricting calories for anyone with anorexia or bulimia.

“We know it can increase feelings of guilt for anyone with binge eating disorder. And there’s very limited evidence that the legislation will improve our eating habits. On multiple occasions, we called on the government to reconsider the impact this legislation will have on people with eating disorders. And we’ve asked them to take an evidence-based approach when creating health policies – which include consulting with eating disorder clinicians and experts by experience.”

Beat has since published guidance for those living with eating disorders on how to understand the new laws and how best to eat out with the new calorie labelling system in place.

The introduction of this new legislation arrives in advance of the new HFSS guidelines coming into effect in October 2022, whereby the in-store promotion of foods high in fat, salt and sugar will be restricted.

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