Why are UK restaurants adding calories to menus when CO2 emissions are so much more important?

This year a new law designed to reduce obesity came into force in England. Since April, the government has legally required businesses with more than 250 employees to post calorie information on their menus.

The rule covers cafes, restaurants and takeaways. While several well-known chains like Wetherspoons and McDonald’s have already posted this information, the guidance was new to many types of restaurants across the country.

Even before the law went into effect, the move proved controversial. The change met much resistance from charities, activists and celebrities alike.

A number of concerns were put on the table, including mounting financial pressure on restaurateurs, after two difficult years of business during the pandemic.

But there was a more pressing concern on activists’ minds: how calories on menus would affect people living with eating disorders.

The cost of calories in menus

According to Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, an estimated 1.25 million people are living with an eating disorder in the UK. As such, adding calorie information to menus will impact the health and well-being of millions.

Although a survey by Public Health England found that 79 per cent of respondents believed menus should include calorie information, campaigners are concerned about the impact of the legislation, and rightly so.

Tom Quinn, a Beat activist, told the Press Association that calories on menus can “increase fixation on calorie restriction for people with anorexia or bulimia, or increase feelings of guilt for people with binge eating disorder.” “.

Speaking from personal experience, I have had countless conversations with friends, family, and colleagues about these menus and how they have altered our dining experiences over the past few months.

During these discussions, most of my friends felt able to ignore the calorie information on menus. However, a small handful were not so sure.

As the evidence suggests, a large proportion of the population will be able to grab a hamburger to go or a tasty meal for dinner. They can see this as a gift without thinking about the calories they have consumed. If you are able to eat without guilt, then I applaud you.

However, for me and others, this is not a possibility. When calorie information was introduced on menus three months ago, choosing a meal no longer became a preference or a choice. Instead, most of my meals were dictated by the dotted number below the meal description.

A small number, which should be inconsequential, quickly altered my choice of food.

Why was the UK calorie law introduced?

The controversial move came about as part of the government’s strategy to tackle obesity rates in the UK.

According to the 2019 Healthy Survey for England (HSE), an estimated 28% of adults in England are obese, with a further 36% classified as overweight. In total, 33% of children are classified as overweight when they leave primary school at the age of 11.

In a bid to reduce obesity rates and relieve pressure on the NHS, the government believed that information on calories would “ensure that people could do more informed, healthier options when it comes to eating out or ordering takeout.”

Calorie information, however, is only part of the food story.

to genuinely do healthier food options, nutritional information must be published alongside calorie counts for these metrics to be of any benefit. However, this defeats the purpose of dining out or ordering a put off. For large sectors of the population, these actions are a delight.

The information that would be most beneficial to consumers is the carbon impact of each meal.

A high street restaurant is leading the way

Earlier this year, when chains across England were overhauling their menus, Wahaca (a Mexican-style street food chain) went a step further. They took the plunge and added carbon information to their menus.

In Northern Europe, the average carbon footprint of a lunch or dinner is estimated at 1.7 kg CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per plate. That’s a far cry from the 0.5kg CO2e our plates should be below to reach the UN’s 2030. sustainability goal.

It is a goal that we can only achieve with more awareness and understanding of the carbon impacts our food choices have. Worldwide, food is responsible for 28 percent of global carbon emissions.

To calculate the carbon impact of each of its meals, Wahaca has partnered with a Swedish startup called Klimato. Together they have calculated the environmental impacts of each dish. This includes the production and distribution of all ingredients, including farmingprocessing and transportation.

Wahaca, founded by food waste activist Thomasina Miers, is also right to give her clients this information.

What impact does carbon information have on diners?

a recent to study conducted by the University of Würzburg in Germany found that diners opted for greener meals when the carbon footprint of each meal was provided. The researchers were specifically looking to understand how restaurants can contribute to climate change. mitigation.

When meals with the lowest carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions were set as the default option, most diners chose greener meals. These findings suggest that the publication of carbon indicators can help companies and consumers reduce emissions.

In contrast, there is no concrete evidence to date to suggest that calorie information on menus has helped tackle obesity rates in England.

In a month where we have seen record temperatures in the UK and Europe, the effects of climate change are becoming all too real.

Even if there is a slim chance that carbon impact information on menus will help customers make more informed climate decisions, then the move should be seriously considered.

We know that a consumer’s actions will not alter the course of climate change but the collective knowledge, power and action of many clients could do it.

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