Health

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Carlos Osorio/AP

British Restaurants to Start Counting Calories

January 16, 2009 12:58 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
In an effort to fight obesity, the U.K. government is encouraging eateries to follow the example of American restaurants by displaying calorie counts on their menus.

Food Agency Pushes Eateries to List Food Information

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The British Food Standards Agency said Thursday that it is looking for volunteer restaurant chains to publish food energy content on menus, with the idea that it could become an industry-wide standard once a standard guide is established.

The BBC reported that the agency is in talks with about 50 large food chains about the plan—which is modeled after a similar system that was created in New York City last year—and that several have agreed to participate. An FSA survey found that a large majority of people would like more eateries to display nutrition information.

Health officials say that eventually calorie counts on menus could be expanded to mirror the country’s “traffic light” labeling system for food sold in supermarkets and other stores, with color-coded labels signifying which foods are high in salt, sugar or fats.

“We’re used to seeing nutrition information when we are shopping and there is no compelling reason why we shouldn’t have more consistent information in order to make decisions … when we go out,” said Tim Smith, chief executive of the food agency, to British newspaper The Guardian. But he said they would not create a “calorie police” to enforce the plan.

Background: England’s battle with obesity; calorie counts in U.S. restaurants

British Health Minister Dawn Primarolo issued a call last year for England’s restaurants to start posting calorie counts on their menus, according to U.K. paper The Daily Telegraph. Primarolo noted that a similar initiative had been successful in the United States, and said, “If it works for them why can’t it happen here.”

Obesity has been at the forefront of health officials’ concerns in England for some time. Currently, one in four British adults is overweight or obese, and the situation is expected to worsen. “I know good diet isn’t just about calorie content, and I know there will be difficulties for independent restaurants, but we have to start somewhere,” Primarolo told The Daily Telegraph. “Why can’t we have calorie content on menus in all chain restaurants?”

England is also trying to address the weight problems of its younger population. In August, the country rolled out a new plan to help reduce cases of childhood obesity.

In the U.S. last year, Nashville, Tenn., joined a growing list of cities that are requiring certain restaurants to include calorie information on their menus; it would also become the first southern city to do so. A public hearing in November was to call for the initiation of the policy on Jan. 31, 2009, with a grace period of 90 days.

In Nashville, more than 60 percent of the population is overweight or obese, according to The Tennessean. In the state of Tennessee, 35 percent of youths are overweight or obese, while 13 percent are obese in Nashville, the article indicates.

Only restaurants with 10 or more outlets throughout the U.S. would be forced to comply with the regulation. The menus or menu boards would have to list the calories “in the same size type as the price,” according to The Tennessean. The restaurants would also have to alert customers that the recommended daily diet for adults consists of no more than 2,000 calories.

New York City and Philadelphia have already enacted similar requirements.

It became a little easier to count calories in New York City last year when a federal judge upheld a decision to require chain restaurants to add calorie counts to their menus.

Reference: Nutrition guide

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