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Calorie labelling on menus could prevent more than 9,000 deaths in England

More than 9,000 heart-disease related deaths could be prevented in England over the next 20 years if all establishments that served food displayed calories on their menus, a study has suggested.

Current government rules stipulate that large businesses with more than 250 employees, including cafes, restaurants, and takeaways, are legally required to provide calorie information for non-prepacked food and soft drinks.

Researchers said under these rules – which came into force in April 2022 – only around 730 deaths from cardiovascular diseases may be prevented until 2041, according to their modelling.

The findings suggested the current policy would reduce obesity prevalence in England by 0.31 percentage points in the next two decades, whereas a full implementation of the policy – across all food businesses – would reduce this by 2.65 percentage points.

The policy now applies to 18% of food businesses. If it was extended to all smaller companies in England then around 9,200 deaths could be prevented – nearly 13 times more than current figures, the scientists at the University of Liverpool found.

Obesity contributes to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes – which could also lead to cardiovascular disease.

More than one in four adults in England are currently living with obesity and a further 37.9% are overweight, but not obese, according to the most recent NHS health survey.

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Obesity, unhealthy weight. Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a meter tape to prescribe a weight loss diet
Image: Over one in four adults in England are currently living with obesity. Pic: iStock

Dr Zoe Colombet, lecturer in epidemiology and public health at the University of Liverpool, said: “Reducing obesity will result in a reduction of cardiovascular disease, and, in the longer term, other diseases related to obesity such as some types of cancer and joint diseases.”

She said widespread calorie labelling “could play an important part in future government strategies to support people in making healthier choices to tackle obesity”, however, she added one policy “cannot solve” the obesity crisis in England.

Dr Colombet urged the government to continue with and bolster a wide range of policies including “tackling junk food marketing and the soft drinks industry levy”.

Other important factors the researchers said to consider were the costs to small businesses, the impact on consumers and the “potential unintended negative consequences such as those on eating disorders”.

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Nutritional balance of meals also ‘important’

Meanwhile, Dr Duane Mellor, registered dietitian and senior lecturer at Aston Medical School, said it was vital that potential public health policies were thoroughly tested through modelling before considering their implementation.

Calorie labelling in some instances “can lead to increased consumption as it is seen as better value for money” he said citing other studies.

Dr Mellor said: “This highlights that calorie labelling on menus in isolation could have the potential to have the opposite effect. It is important to look at the overall nutritional balance of meals and how they fit into an overall dietary pattern.

“It is not sensible to focus on foods solely on their energy content to assess how healthy or not they are.”

Mandatory calorie labelling that currently exists England is also being considered in Wales and Scotland.

Sky News Source