By Dr Gillian Purdon, Head of Nutrition Science and Policy at Food Standards Scotland.
Eating out is no longer the occasional treat, most of us eat out on a regular basis – probably far more than we realise. Research conducted by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) shows that people living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage eat out almost every day – 28 times a month on average, rising to 36 times a month for the under 30s.
This might not be that surprising when you consider that eating out isn’t all about sit down restaurant meals, these actually make up a very small proportion (3%) of visits. It is the frequent smaller purchases where we tend to focus the bulk of our spend and visits out of home, from places like coffee shops, convenience stores and food bought when “on the go”.
Around a quarter of our calories come from food and drink purchased out of home, and with takeaway and delivery apps accelerating our ability to order food through just a touch of a button, it looks like this trend is set to continue.
While accessing food and drinks out of our homes becomes easier, we’re unable to access accurate information about what we’re ordering and how it affects our overall diet and health. In addition, these foods also tend to come in larger portions, and contain more calories than the labelled food and drink we purchase from shops and supermarkets.
Implementing calorie labelling can act as a catalyst for businesses to adapt recipes and reduce the calories in their offerings. This has the advantage by positively impacting consumers without them having to make a conscious decision. And with an exemption for items on the menu that change frequently such as daily specials, it won’t stand in the way of innovation and use of seasonal ingredients.
To enable businesses to provide calorie information, which can already be provided on a voluntary basis, FSS offers a free tool called MenuCal. It helps businesses calculate the calories in their menu items and manage their legal requirements to provide allergen information.
Evidence shows providing calorie information for out of home food and drinks tends to lead to a reduction in calories ordered or consumed and this small reduction can add up to make a big difference at a population level.
We recognise it can only ever be one way of addressing the complex issue of rising levels of overweight and obesity, which affect individuals lives and put a strain on NHS resources. But we are also conscious that the potential inclusion of calorie information on menus may be difficult for some people, particularly those with disordered eating. The live Scottish Government consultation offers the opportunity for people to have their say and also to suggest ways of mitigating any potential harm and we encourage anyone with a view to have their say.
Finally, including this kind of information is not a novel practice. Many larger chains have been doing so for some time, as well as it being a mandatory requirement on the back of all pre-packaged goods.
The consultation exploring mandatory calorie labelling for the out of home sector which is open until the 1st July and provides an opportunity for everyone to have their say.