Will calories on menus really help us lose weight?

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The government has announced plans to slim down the nation. (Getty Images)
The government has announced plans to slim down the nation. (Getty Images)

The government has announced plans to slim down the UK with a new obesity strategy.

The plans – which include banning “buy one get one free” (BOGOF) offers on unhealthy food and adding calories to menus – have been met with a mixture of praise and raised eyebrows.

The focus on obesity comes after it was announced that obese people are 40% more at risk of dying of coronavirus. It is also thought that almost two-thirds of adults and a third children in the UK are overweight.

Read more: Teenagers have snacked more in lockdown, study finds

One of the more controversial aspects of the government’s plans involves adding calories to menus. The government says it will “help people make healthier choices when eating out”.

Alcoholic drinks could also soon be required to list hidden “liquid calories”.

Many people have shared their confusion about the measures on social media, saying calorie counting is not a valid way to measure whether something is healthy or not.

A number of people with eating disorders came forward on social media to explain how these new rulings might impact their decisions.

One Twitter user said: “Calorie counts wont stop people from eating too much, but it will stop people with eating disorders from eating.”

‘The jury’s out’

Azmina Govindji, a spokesperson at the British Dietetic Association, said: “Changing our environment can help make it easier for people to choose healthier options; there are no quick fixes and putting calories on menus is just one way that might make some of us think twice before we order.

“If you're walking into a takeaway burger store, chances are you're already planning to enjoy a burger with fries and a drink.

“Making calorie values easily visible could help to kick in more conscious thinking, preventing you from ‘going large’, or directing you to opt for a diet drink.

“But ordering a takeaway online is easier than getting a doctor's appointment – will calorie values make you eat less? The jury's out on that.

“This initiative needs to be recognised as just one measure as part of an overall behaviour change strategy that is sustainable, affordable and accessible, particularly for more vulnerable groups who may be on a low income.

“It would be even more helpful if there were BOGOF offers on fruit and veg!”

Read more: Man loses 350 pounds by eating his own farm produce

The strategy is currently geared towards restricting offers on certain foods and banning some advertising. It doesn’t go into detail about how to encourage people to eat more healthily by moving those offers on to healthier foods like fruit and vegetables.

Chef Thomasina Miers described the government’s initiative as a “brilliant start” but like many, her reservations lie with the counting of calories.

“Avocados are full of fat but it’s good fat.” she said in an interview on Channel 4.

“They’re full of nutrients and they’re good for you but they’re high in calories. Calorie counting is quite a blunt tool.”

Instead, the co-founder of the Wahaca restaurant group suggests restaurants should be asked to divulge what proportion of their food contains vegetables.

“There are good calories and bad calories but a calorie, per se, is not a bad thing,” she said. “I think it is stigmatising food and making it the enemy.”

Read more: More than a quarter of calories consumed by children are empty, study finds

Miers and Govindji’s thoughts echo the conversations being had on social media.

While many can agree that tackling obesity – particularly in light of recent statistics on how it affects coronavirus sufferers – is a good thing, experts are hoping a more multi-faceted approach to weight loss will be considered.

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