08 Jul 2020 ‘Eat out to help out’: Food Active response
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has today announced that every person in the UK will be given 50% discounts at restaurants in a ‘creative’ new scheme to help save the hospitality industry, following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ‘eat out to help out’ initiative offers customers money off up to a value of £10 per head when eating at restaurants from Monday to Wednesday throughout August.
Food Active is concerned about the ‘eat out to help out’ initiative for a number of reasons. Firstly, meals eaten out-of-home (OOH) tend to be associated with higher intakes of fat, saturated fat, free sugar and salt, especially when compared with the UK’s Dietary Reference Values. Secondly, there is research to suggest that portion sizes found in the OOH sector are also typically greater than the average serving size, which can further contribute to excess calorie intake.
As part of their ‘One You’ campaign, Public Health England currently recommend no more than 600 calories for lunch and evening meals, after national surveillance data shows adults are consuming 200-300 excess calories every day – which can contribute to overweight and obesity. Similarly, depending on their age, overweight and obese boys consume between 140 to 500 calories too many each day and for girls, it is 160 to 290 when compared to those with healthy body weights.
Research shows that many main meals served at major restaurant and fast food chains in the UK are in excess of this – on average over 250kcal more than this recommendation. What is more, research suggests the one in four starters and one in five sides and desserts in UK chain restaurants exceed the recommended energy intake for an entire meal.
The fact that this voucher will be valid for multiple visits means that families may end up clocking up thousands more calories over the month of August. In addition, the psychology of discounts and price promotions may result in individuals and families overeating.
Whilst we appreciate the need to support the OOH sector following the COVID-19 pandemic, we also need to consider the health of the nation and question whether this is the best approach. We also consider whether this message is appropriate given the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the UK, as well as the growing links between obesity and COVID-19 complications. Alcoholic drinks will not be offered on as part of the offer – so why is unhealthy food? This could have been an opportunity to support businesses which provide healthier options and help go some way in addressing health inequalities, by supporting low income households access these healthier options in restaurants that they may not have been able to access before.
Let’s not forget however that even with this support from the Government, some families still will not have the means to afford a meal out. The Government’s recovery plan for Covid-19 should not just focus on the economy, but also consider how they can reduce inequalities which have only worsened during the pandemic .
With the Prime Minister’s announcement on a new obesity strategy due any minute, this is a great opportunity to try and influence long term sustained changes in the OOH sector, including healthier food and drink as well as providing more information on making healthier choices whilst eating out. The Government have already consulted on introducing calorie labelling in the OOH sector – back in December 2018 as part of Chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Plan. This could be a quick and easy win for the Government. We hope to see this along with a measures to address the marketing and promotion of less healthy food and drink featured as part of this new strategy.
 Lachat C, Nago E, Verstraeten R, Roberfroid D, Van Camp J, Kolsteren P. Eating out of home and its association with dietary intake: a systematic review of the evidence. Obes Rev. 2012;13:329–46.
 Public Health England (2016) Sugar Reduction: The evidence for action. Annexe 4: An analysis of the role of price promotions on the household purchases of food and drinks high in sugar