Calories on menus damaging for people with eating disorders, charity warns

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Most people affected by eating disorders believe the introduction of calories on menus has had a detrimental effect, a survey suggests.

Charity Beat found that eight in 10 people (84%) with lived experience of an eating disorder said the listing of calorie content has negatively affected their recovery.

The poll marks a year since businesses with 250 or more employees in England, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways, have been required to display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drinks prepared for customers as part of the Government’s drive to tackle obesity.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments are considering similar legislation.

Respondents also reported that measures put in place to mitigate harm, such as allowing restaurants to provide a calorie-free menu on request, cause embarrassment and encourage unwanted questions about their eating disorder.

Some seven in 10 eat out less frequently, saying they avoid outlets which list calorie counts.

The survey found that seven in 10 do not think it is possible for calorie labelling on menus to be introduced in a way that does not pose risks to people living with eating disorders.

“People with eating disorders will change their meal choice based on calorie count, but they are also the people who shouldn’t. There’s clear and compelling evidence to show the harm calorie counts cause, and only a tiny amount of poor-quality research to show they might work on the general population.

“The Government heard the concerns from us, people with lived experience and other mental health professionals and still chose to go ahead with a policy that they knew was ineffective and would hurt the 1.25 million people who are affected by eating disorders.

“They now have a chance to put this right: scrap this dangerous policy immediately and instead look into measures which look at health holistically and, crucially, actually work without causing harm.”

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese and one in three children leaves primary school at an unhealthy weight.

A survey by the former Public Health England on calorie reduction found that 79% of respondents said they thought menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks.

– Beat surveyed more than 400 people in England with lived experience of eating disorders, or carers of those with lived experience, in March.

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