Calorie counts on menus won’t help in tackling obesity, say most Brits

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
July 14, 2021, 10:24 AM UTC

The public are also unconvinced by other government policies such as banning junk food ads on TV before 9pm

The government has announced a “renewed drive” to tackle obesity. But YouGov data shows Britons are sceptical of the effectiveness of several key policies.

Large businesses will be required to include calorie information on menus and food labels from April next year to “help the public make healthier choices when eating out”. But a majority of Britons (55%) say it would be ineffective in tackling obesity, while only 39% see merit in it. 

The government had also planned to force pubs to list calories in drinks to ‘highlight hidden liquid calories’ but scrapped the plans following backlash from the drinks industry. The public are unlikely to be bothered, with an even higher number (69%) considering such a policy ineffective. 

The government has also announced it will ban junk food adverts on TV before 9pm and all online advertisements for unhealthy foods. People are split on how effective this will be, with 49% deeming a ban on TV ads ineffective, compared to 45% who believe it would be effective. Britons are similarly divided split on online ads, with 45% saying it’s unlikely to yield results, while 47% believe it will.

Among the policies included in the survey, better GP support for obese people with referrals to weight management services is regarded as the most impactful, with two thirds of Britons (67%) believing it will help to slow the growth of the nation’s expanding waistlines.    

The government’s proposed “Fit Miles” scheme, which will reward weight loss and exercise with shopping vouchers, is also popular with the public. Three in five people (60%) say it would be beneficial, while three in ten (29%) disagree.

Will listing calories on menus do more harm than good?

The move to force hospitality venues to list calories on menus has sparked controversy, with an eating disorder charity calling for it to be “immediately scrapped” and recovering sufferers branding it dangerous.

While two in five Britons (40%) expect it will have a positive impact on people’s diets, only one in four (24%) believe it will have a negative impact on the number of people with eating disorders. But it’s an issue that divides generations, with around half of 18-24-year-olds (48%) believing it will affect the prevalence of eating disorders, compared with only 13% of those aged 65+.    

Women are also nearly three times as likely as men to believe adding calories to menus will increase eating disorders at 35% vs 13%.

See the full results here