Restaurants, cafes and takeaways must now print how many calories are in meals on their menus, websites, and on delivery platforms.

The controversial rule is part of the government plans to tackle obesity, but has been heavily criticized by eating disorder charities.

The legislation states food and drink businesses in England with 250 or more employees must now display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drinks.

Here’s how many calories the NHS says you should consume per day, and why the Government has introduced this new rule.

What are calories?

Calories are a measure of how much energy food or drink contains.

The term calorie is commonly used as shorthand for kilocalorie. You will find this written as kcal on food packets.

Kilojoules (kJ) are the equivalent of kilocalories within the International System of Units.

You will see both kJ and kcal on nutrition labels. 4.2kJ is equivalent to approximately 1kcal.

When we eat and drink, we put energy into our bodies. Our bodies use up that energy through everyday movement, which includes everything from breathing to running.

How many calories should I eat in a day?

A person’s ideal daily intake of calories varies depending on age, metabolism and levels of physical activity, among other things.

Generally, the NHS’s recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men.

The following factors can affect how many calories you need a day:

  • Your age – for example, growing children and teenagers may need more energy
  • Your lifestyle – for example, people who are more active will need more energy
  • Your size – your height and weight can affect how quickly you use energy
  • Some hormones (chemicals produced by the body) – such as thyroid hormones
  • Some medicines – such as glucocorticoids, a type of steroid used to treat inflammation
  • Being unwell

To maintain a healthy weight, the NHS says you need to balance the amount of calories you consume through food and drink with the amount of calories you burn through physical activity.

However, there is far more to maintaining good health than being aware of your calorie intake, such as keeping a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Why has the Government introduced this new legislation?

The Government says displaying calorie counts on menus will help “ensure people can make more informed, healthier choices when it comes to eating food out or ordering takeaways”.

It is estimated that overweight and obesity-related conditions across the UK cost the NHS £6.1bn each year.

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity, and 40 per cent of children leave primary school overweight or obese.

Obesity is also the second biggest cause of cancer across the UK.

Public Health Minister Maggie Throup said: “It is crucial that we all have access to the information we need to maintain a healthier weight, and this starts with knowing how calorific our food is. We are used to knowing this when we are shopping in the supermarket, but this isn’t the case when we eat out or get a takeaway.

“As part of our efforts to tackle disparities and level up the nation’s health, these measures are an important building block to making it as easy as possible for people to make healthier food choices.”

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Why is it so controversial?

Including calorie counts on menus can be problematic for people with eating disorders.

Andrew Radford, chief executive of leading eating disorder charity Beat, said: “Requiring calorie counts on menus risks causing great distress for people suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders, since evidence shows that calorie labeling exacerbates eating disorders of all kinds.

“Although we recognise the importance of reducing obesity, research shows that anti-obesity campaigns that focus on weight instead of health are counterproductive, while the number of calories consumed is not a reliable indicator of health.

“Public health campaigns need to consider people’s mental health as well as their physical health. They must move away from obesity-shaming to emphasis healthy behavioral changes and instilling confidence into people.”

The move has also been criticized by the restaurant industry.

Kate Nicholls, boss of the industry group UK Hospitality, said the new rules came at the “worst possible time for thousands of businesses struggling to survive”.

“We’ve long called for a delay to the implementation of calorie labeling, and we’d like to see a grace period post-April to allow businesses breathing space in which to implement the new rules without the risk of unnecessary enforcement action from day one,” she said.

“It’s completely unfair to expect businesses devastated by Covid to all of a sudden introduce complicated and costly new labeling when they’ve much more pressing matters to attend to – recuping their losses from the past 24 months for a start.”

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