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Calories on Menus Damaging for People with Eating Disorders, Charity Warns

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  more than 8 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.

Almost 9 in 10 people (88%) said that seeing calorie counts affects their menu choices, with one respondent saying: "My anorexia latches onto these numbers and dictates what I eat – always the lowest-calorie option, making it even easier to lose the weight I can't afford to lose."

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.

About 70% Said They Eat Out Less Frequently

Some 7 in 10 eat out less frequently, saying they avoid outlets which list calorie counts. The survey found that 7 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.

Tom Quinn, Beat's director of external affairs, said: "It’s been a year and the results from the Government's under-researched, arbitrary idea are clear to see. Calorie counts on menus harm people with eating disorders – it's that simple.

"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."

It is estimated that overweight and obesity-related conditions cost the NHS £6.1 billion each year. Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese and 1 in 3 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.

This article contains information from PA Media.