Warning over 'risk' of calorie labelling on restaurant and cafe menus

Woman eating burger
[Getty Images]

The potential harm of showing calorie counts on food menus could outweigh the benefits, a study by Public Health Scotland suggests.

The report warns that people recovering from a range of eating disorders find calorie labelling "triggering".

The Scottish government has been consulting on whether restaurants and cafes must display calorie levels.

Campaign groups, including Obesity Action Scotland, argue they would help people make healthier choices.

However, there are fears that the move could heighten the risk of relapse in people who have experienced eating disorders in the past.

That view is backed by Tina McDuff, who now works with the eating disorder charity Beat having faced the challenges of bulimia and anorexia for most of her life.

She told BBC Scotland News: "We're predicating everything on the amount of calories you consume in a day if you're in the grip of anorexia, for example, which I was.

"For me, if I had seen any (calorie) numbers, I would have walked out or not touched anything apart from some water and just made some excuse to leave."

Food choices

Rules on displaying calorie data came into force in England in 2022.

Restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 staff must print how many calories are in meals on their menus, websites, and on delivery platforms.

Critics of the changes in England argue the move is a blunt instrument as it does not give the full nutritional picture of the food choices.

Some high street chains operating in Scotland, including as Wetherspoon pubs and McDonald's restaurants, already publish information about the calorie content of their food on their menus.

Mental Wellbeing Minister Maree Todd said the latest Public Health Scotland report would help form ministers' views on whether a new law should be introduced to help tackle obesity.

She said: "I think it is a challenging situation. We know the level of concern that we have in Scotland around overweight and obesity and the public health imperative to try to encourage healthy eating.

"There is a balance to be struck in all of this and it's not an easy one to navigate."

A Scottish government spokesperson added: "We welcome this research, which helps us meet our commitment to fully take the views of people with an eating disorder into account when considering our policy on mandating calorie labelling in out of home settings.

"We are looking to have further discussions with the hospitality sector before taking a decision on mandating calorie labelling."