Will calorie labels for food and drink served outside the home improve public health?BMJ 2021; 372 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n40 (Published 20 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n40
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After reading the article on the case for restaurant calorie labels, I was disappointed but not surprised that no mention was made of the potential impact on the thousands of children and adults in the UK who suffer from eating disorders.
For many of these people, the joy of food is entirely supplanted by obsessive anxieties over calories and nutritional content. In the home, hours can be spent analysing and calculating the calorie counts of whatever food is prepared and consumed, within the rules dictated by the eating disorder. Restaurants – in the main – don’t offer the disorder this luxury; food is measured, prepared and served by someone else out of sight, and the eating disorder is deprived of the rigidity it thrives on.
For those with eating disorders, eating at restaurants is an aspect of life that often dies as the illness takes hold. It can therefore become an important milestone and exercise in recovery for the person to go out to a restaurant and choose a meal based on their tastes and appetite rather than calories or grams of fat. Introducing calorie counts on menus would rob them of this. Given that the cost of obesity to the NHS and wider society vastly outweighs the cost of eating disorders (the impact on sufferers notwithstanding), I can understand that this is a sacrifice that policy makers would be willing to make. However, given the paucity of evidence in favour of compulsory calorie counts in tackling the obesity crisis, should we not be considering the potential costs? While calorie-counted menus may make only a ripple on the surface of the country’s obesity problem, they would surely fan the flames of the eating disorders already consuming the lives of so many patients and their families.
Competing interests: No competing interests