Calorie labelling could be extended to the out-of-home sector, as part of Government’s plans to tackle obesity

Calorie labelling could be extended to the out-of-home sector, as part of Government’s plans to tackle obesity

Today the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has opened its consultation on extending calorie labelling to the out-of-home sector, including café’s, restaurants and takeaways.

The consultation forms as part of a series of consultations on measures proposed in the second chapter of the Childhood Obesity Plan, published in June 2018. Other areas for consultation are price promotions on unhealthy food and drink, a 9pm watershed on junk food marketing to children and unhealthy food and drink at the checkout.

Currently, calorie and other nutritive information is required on all packaged food purchased in the retail sector. Under the DHSC’s proposals, this would extend to all cafés, restaurants and takeaways, who would be required to clearly label calorie information for all of the food and drink options available in the premises. Large chains such as JD Weatherspoon’s and McDonalds currently already provide calorie information on their menus.

The purpose of displaying calorie information would be to make sure that people have clear and accurate information about the calorie content of the food and drink that they and their families are eating when dining out, so that they can make informed and healthy choices for themselves and their children. According to the DHSC, families want to see more nutritional information whilst they are eating out to help them make healthier choices.

Will it have any impact on obesity levels?

The proposals are an important move in the wider range of efforts to tackle obesity, as research shows that out-of-home foods contribute to a large proportion of our overall calorie intake – with estimates suggesting around one quarter. More and more people eat foods on the go and out and about nowadays – for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.

There is some research in both the U.S. and the U.K to suggest that out-of-home foods are generally less healthy than those we would consume in the home environment[i][ii].

Earlier this year, a Cochrane review suggested displaying calorie information could reduce calorie intake reduce energy purchased per meal by 7.8%. However, the review only included 28 studies and further evaluation is warranted[iii]. Nonetheless, with adults consuming in excess of 200-300 calories every day and over two thirds of the adult population current an unhealthy weight, small reductions in calorie intake can play an important role in preventing and reducing the prevalence of obesity[iv].

However, there is no silver bullet to tackling obesity – it is influenced by a multitude of factors that will require a multitude of measures. As mentioned, this proposal is just one of the many proposals the Government are considering, but will play an important role in providing more information to help consumers make healthier, more informed choices in their diet.

Considerations for the proposals:

  • Calories are not the only way to determine whether a food or drink is a healthier choice. There are other nutrients that should be considered as well as considering calorie, such as saturated fat, free sugar and salt. Displaying just calorie information would provide a very narrow view of how healthy a product is. However, overloading menus with lots of information may not be the best approach either.
  • Not everybody is aware of what calories are and the daily reference values for males and females. Just displaying the calorie information without any other supporting information may not mean much to many individuals. Some other important information that could be included may be:

– What is a calorie?

– What are the dietary reference values for males, females and children?

– How much is this meal in proportion to our dietary reference value for calories?

  • Engaging with independent cafes, restaurants and takeaways may be difficult for a number of reasons:

– Firstly, it costs a lot of money to send their meals off for analysis to determine the nutritive value. This may put a financial pressure on independent businesses, of whom may be already struggling with increasing rent and food costs.

– Chain establishments are much more regimented in terms of its menus, recipes etc. However, independent restaurants can often change their menus from day to day, recipes are often more ‘home-cooking style’ where ingredients are             not measured before adding it, have weekly specials and some even don’t have menu’s as such – it can just be a matter of chalk on a blackboard. Being able to provide calorie information could hamper menu innovation for independent             businesses, as this would require each new product to undergo fresh nutritional composition analysis. How easy will it be for independent retailers to provide this information given these barriers?

However, some of these questions and considerations will be resolved through the consultation process. It will involve a wide range of stakeholders to gather views on how to best implement the proposals, in a way that suits the key businesses involved.

The consultation is open here and will close on the 7th December 2018:


[i] Tiwari A, Aggarwal A, Tang W et al. (2017) Cooking at home: a strategy to comply with U.S. dietary guidelines at no extra cost. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 52 (5), pp.616-624.

[ii] Ziauddeen N, Page P, Penney TL et al. (2018) Eating at food outlets and leisure places and “on the go” is associated with less-healthy food choices than eating at home and in school in children: cross-sectional data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (2008-2014). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 107 (6), pp.992-1003.

[iii] Crockett RA, King SE, Marteau TM et al. (2018) Nutritional labelling for healthier food or non-alcoholic drink purchasing and consumption.  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 2. No.: CD009315

[iv] Public Health England (2018) Why we are working to reduce calorie intake [online] Available at: [Accessed: 14th September 2018].

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