So, we've talked about this before but since it's been in the media again recently, let's have another look it!
Why is it being considered? Well, I honestly think it is being viewed as a way to solve the "obesity problem". The issue is, this is far too simplistic a policy to solve anything! It seems to me that the view is: if people knew what they were eating they would eat less and not be fat(FYI I use the term fat as a neutral descriptor and in the reclaimed sense). But it isn't that simple and pretending that it is isn't helping anyone, + is prob contributing to weight stigma further).
What does the research say? There is some research on this, but lots more needs to be done. From the best available research there are indications that kcal labeling can reduce kcal intake by 100kcal. Now, that is not much! It is worth mentioning that only fast-food outlets have been used in research so far, so it is likely that there will be different results in cafes/restaurants etc. What do restaurants/chefs think? There have been interesting chats about this from restaurateurs + chefs and they have some good points! 1. Creativity in the kitchen- will there be weighing needed? Caution against the extra tsp of butter or extra potato etc?! All the concern about kcal could stifle creativity. 2. Cost- I'm unsure whether biz will get the software for free or at a cost, either way there will still be expense on biz. Menus will need to be changed and staff allocated additional hours to analyse recipes for kcal info (apparently 30min/recipe needed). 3. Choice- most food outlets offer daily/weekly specials. Will having to calculate kcal info affect the variety of specials available to consumers? I think it may, and this could have a knock on effect on biz. 4. Accuracy- consider all the food outlets in the country and how many menu items they have- who will be checking the accuracy of their kcal info? It seems impossible to check. And if it wont be checked, who's to say that biz won't leave out things/alter kcal info to make dishes appear lower in kcal so customers won't be deterred by high kcal items? What are my concerns? 1. I'm primarily concerned for those who have an already strained relationship with food + may suffer from an eating disorder. This type of info/kcal tracking can feed ED behavours/thoughts and be difficult to navigate for lots of people, ED or not.
2. People, in general, have poor understanding of what kcal and and what kcal counts mean for them. Without better education on this, I doubt the benefit of people having the info on kcal. I've been wondering whether another, more positive approach could be more helpful- E.G. this dish is high in iron/protein/vit C/cholesterol or counts towards your 5 a day etc. Much more user friendly IMO!
3. Providing only kcal info drives home the diet culture notion that kcal are something bad that we should avoid and feel guilty for having. Having only a kcal value, in our society obsessed with weight, will mean that people think that low kcal dishes are healthier, but kcal tells us nothing about the nutritional content of food. Dishes higher in kcal could be more nutrient dense than low kcal options, but consumers won't be clear on that. Making kcal the focus is inadvertently making weight the focus- and again, that is too simplistic a view of health! Always remember that the main function of food is energy. Energy=calories. Calories are not the enemy, not evil, but are actually the reason we eat! So even if you eat a food/meal that provides no nutrition, if it has calories, it is fulfilling its purpose + it is helpful to you! Please never look at a menu or packet and think one food is better because it is lower in calories. Calories don't tell us about how nutritious the food/meal is- it might be low in kcal, but also not providing you with any nutritional value (and vice versa).
So when we provide only kcal information, we are helping consumers or are we doing them a disservice?
Ultimately, it is too early to say, but it is something I am skeptical of and worry it is a really easy way for a government to make themselves look like they care about public health, when there are much bigger issues at play with the health of the nation!
If you're interested in reading more about the research, check out this blog I wrote last year.
Lots of love,
Little O x