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Calorie Count Consultation

As the cost of living crisis deepens and thousands of families in Scotland are facing fewer options on how to produce healthy meals on limited budgets , the Scottish Government has launched a consultation on adding a calorie count which will potentially apply to 41,000 outlets.

” All food and non-alcoholic drinks that can be consumed immediately upon purchase without any further preparation is within the potential scope of the policy. “

The calorie counter would be on the menus of places like restaurants and cafes but also takeaway outlets.

The consultation sets out the broad types of food and drink that would be covered and will seek views on how this could apply to:

  • food and hospitality businesses, depending on their size
  • public sector institutions such as hospitals and prisons
  • pre-packed food such as filled sandwiches
  • online takeaway menus
  • children’s menus

Parents with children who receive a school dinner in Orkney will already be aware of the standards applied there.

Public Health Minister in the Scottish Government Maree Todd said:

“Before the pandemic, people living in Scotland were consuming more and more food and drink out of home or ordering it in. Whether it’s breakfast at a roadside café, grabbing a lunchtime soup and sandwich from a local convenience store or ordering food online from a restaurant, most of us were increasingly buying food outside the home – a trend I expect to resume as we recover from the pandemic.

“Two-thirds of the population living in Scotland is recorded as living with overweight or obesity – a key factor in our plan to address this is calorie labelling. We know that giving people more information, such as the number of calories in meals will enable people to make healthier choices when eating out, or ordering in. This is not novel practice – calories are already required on retail food purchases and calorie labelling for out of home sites is mandated in many other countries.

“Many food companies in Scotland have already taken this significant step voluntarily.  We want to learn from those experiences and I would urge everyone to share their thoughts in this consultation.”

Poverty and Poor Diet

People living in poverty do not have the luxury of affording the best food , the freshest vegetables, access to gardens to grow their own when just being able to afford to eat is the issue for thousands of Scots.

Professor Rachel Batterham, RCP special adviser on obesity, exploring the link between health inequalities and obesity in England, states that : Access to healthy food should be a right and not a privilege.

She writes:

“The impact of deprivation on obesity rates is deeply concerning, with adults in the most deprived regions having almost double the prevalence of obesity compared with the least deprived (36% compared with 20%). The effect of deprivation upon childhood obesity is even more alarming. In 2018/19, the prevalence of obesity in children aged 10–11 was 27% in the most deprived areas and 13% in the least deprived areas. The gap in obesity prevalence between children from the most deprived and least deprived areas is stark and growing, with an increase from 8.5% in 2006/7 to 13.9% in 2018/19.

“It is clear that socio-economic factors such as under-employment or poverty play a key role in driving obesity and poor health, and that a whole-government approach is critical in order to reduce health inequalities and obesity rates.”

There is a strong relationship between obesity and low socioeconomic status, especially for women.

World Health Organisation Obesity and inequities

The WHO report also found that obesity in children “is strongly related to the socioeconomic status of their parents” and that “the higher the level of income inequality, the more overweight children are.”

The report stresses that policies pursued by governments should first ‘do no harm’ and that strategies should not be implemented where ‘the most disadvantaged groups receive the least benefit from the policy, and inequities worsen rather than improving.’

” For example, there is evidence that food companies increase the price of products that are reformulated to be healthier: beef burgers with 5% fat are more expensive than burgers with 15% fat; and high-fibre cakes are more expensive than regular ones. Thus, new healthy choices are likely to remain out of reach for low-income groups.”

Making the price of vegetables and fruit lower and raising the price of foods high in fat, sugar and salt is likely to benefit low socioeconomic groups most.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) Head of Nutrition Science and Policy Dr Gillian Purdon has welcomed the Scottish Government calorie counting consultation. She said:

“FSS has long proposed the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling as part of a suite of recommendations to address the nation’s poor diet. Alongside the consultation, we published the findings of two reports which highlight that overall, calorie information at point of choice can reduce the amount of calories ordered or consumed.

“With eating out is now an everyday occurrence and nearly a quarter of our calories coming from food and drink purchased outside of home, mandatory calorie labelling is one way to support people to make healthier options.”

To find out more information about the consultation and to contribute your views please click on this link: Out of home sector – mandatory calorie labelling: consultation

Calorie labelling is seen as key by the Public Health Minister.

Commenting in the forward to the consultation Maree Todd said:

“We face another national health emergency. Obesity and poor diet continue to be one of the biggest and most complex public health challenges.

“The fact that socio-economic disadvantage, disability or being part of a certain minority ethnic community creates additional barriers for people is not acceptable. Reducing diet-related health inequalities must be central to our action.”

You can use the NHS website’s calorie checker to look up the calories of more than 150,000 different foods and drinks quickly and simply.

Fiona Grahame