Calorie counts on menus should be compulsory for ALL restaurants, pubs and takeaways to save up to 10,000 lives from heart disease, say experts

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Researchers say showing calories on menus may reduce cardiovascular disease
  • Rise in takeaways and eating out is thought to be driver in high obesity levels  

Calorie counts on menus should be compulsory for all restaurants, pubs and take-aways after research found the policy saves lives.

The measure was introduced as part of the government’s national obesity strategy – but only applies to businesses that serve food with 250 or more employees.

Now researchers say more than 9,000 heart disease-related deaths could be prevented if it was rolled out more widely.

In the first estimates of the impact of current calorie labelling, scientists estimate it will save hundreds of lives by 2041.

But if it is broadened out to all food outlets, this would have a significantly higher impact on cardiovascular deaths as well as reducing obesity rates.

Martin O’Flaherty, professor in epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said: ‘Over one in four adults in England are currently living with obesity, with trends suggesting this is set to increase.

As part of the government’s national obesity strategy businesses that serve food with 250 or more employees have to show calories on their menu. But there are now calls for smaller cafes and restaurants to do the same

‘Our research estimates that the current calorie labelling legislation will prevent hundreds of deaths from cardiovascular disease over the next 20 years; however, a much larger impact is possible if the Government were more ambitious in their aims to tackle the obesity epidemic in England and extended the policy to all out-of-home food businesses.’

The rise of eating out and take-aways are widely thought to be one of the key drivers of the nation’s bulging waistline.

Experts suggest putting calorie counts on menus can help diners make healthier choices when eating food not prepared by themselves.

The legislation, which applies to about 18 per cent of food businesses, was introduced in April 2022 but campaigners believe it should be expanded for maximum public health benefits.

The study, led by the University of Liverpool, found that without any menu calorie labelling policy an estimated 830,000 deaths associated with cardiovascular disease would occur by 2041.

Modelling suggests that under the current policy, around 730 deaths can be prevented over the next 20 years and reduce obesity prevalence in England by 0.31 per cent.

If it was extended to all food businesses in England, then about 9,200 deaths could be prevented – almost 13 times more – and cut obesity by 2.64 per cent researchers said.

Dr Zoe Colombet, Lecturer in Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Liverpool, said: ‘Our results suggest expanding calorie labelling on menus to all English out-of-home food businesses could play an important part in future government strategies to support people in making healthier choices to tackle obesity. 

‘However, one policy alone cannot solve England’s obesity crisis.

‘We encourage the Government to continue with, and strengthen, the England obesity strategy with a wide range of policies, such as calorie labelling, tackling junk food marketing, and the soft drinks industry levy, which will both reduce obesity and narrow the shocking health inequalities gap in our society.’

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide 

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