Public Health Not Public Shaming

Obesity Strategy

In July 2020, the UK Government announced their strategy on obesity. This strategy includes plans to:

  • Introduce calorie labelling on menus in all restaurants, cafes and take-aways with over 250 employees
  • Run a “Better Health” campaign, which includes a weight-loss app
  • Introduce a new incentives and reward approach to encourage ‘eating better and moving more’
  • Invest £70 million into weight management services

Previous Government public health campaigns have been ineffective in addressing obesity. However, they have increased stigma, and have put those vulnerable to developing an eating disorder and those currently experiencing an eating disorder at risk.

As one eating disorder sufferer highlighted: 

My eating disorder makes me, and many others, susceptible to taking these messages to the extreme.

Beat recognises the importance of addressing obesity, but it is vital that the public are not shamed into losing weight. This approach oversimplifies obesity, reducing people’s weight to a matter of individual choice and ignoring the many complex factors involved, which may include eating disorders.

It made me feel like a criminal for being overweight and I sat in tears.

This approach is not acceptable.

For more information on Beat’s response to the Government’s strategy on obesity, including our report outlining ways in which anti-obesity measures have the potential to cause distress to people at risk of developing an eating disorder and those already diagnosed, please see here for more information.

Progress so far:

  • Public Health England has introduced new measures to safeguard people who are under 18 and people who have a low BMI from using the “Better Health” NHS weight loss app. Read more here.
  • Hundreds of campaigners have contacted their MP or the Prime Minister to let them know that campaigns to address obesity should not pose risks to people with eating disorders.

Calorie labelling on menus 

Beat has raised concerns about the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling on menus. Research shows that calorie labelling poses risks to people with eating disorders, whilst there is limited evidence that calorie labelling on menus will have its intended outcome. 

Despite Beat’s concerns, on July 22nd 2021 UK Parliament passed legislation introducing mandatory calorie labelling on menus in all restaurants, cafes and take-aways with over 250 employees in England from April 2022.  

Beat are disappointed that this legislation has been introduced, despite the risks that it poses to people affected by eating disorders. We are however pleased that thanks to the fantastic work of Beat campaigners, 630 out of 650 MPs were informed about the risks of calorie labelling on menus as a result of YOU, our campaigners, emailing your MP about this issue. This has had a significant impact in raising awareness of the risks that campaigns to address obesity can pose to people with eating disorders, and during the last debate on the Obesity Strategy in the House of Commons, eating disorders were mentioned 41 times! 

We are also pleased that due to the fantastic work of campaigners and experts from the field of eating disorders the Government has:  

  • Decided not to make calorie labelling mandatory in schools and other educational institutions.  
  • Allowed restaurants, cafes and take-aways to provide a menu without calorie information at the request of a customer.   

However, there steps do not go far enough and Beat are continuing to call on the Government to do more to prevent people with eating disorders being put at risk by calorie labelling.   You can find our guidance on eating out with calorie labels on menus here.

What is happening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

The obesity strategy only directly affects England, although some larger establishments might start adding calorie labels on menus across the UK.   

In Scotland the Government are considering the Out of Home Bill which will include calorie labelling on menus. Beat is in early discussion with Scottish Government about this and will be highlighting the risks which calorie labelling poses.   

Mandatory calorie labelling isn’t currently being introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland, however, this could happen in the future, and it is helpful to act now to try and prevent this. 

If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and would like support to write to your representative about this, please contact the team via email.  

What next?

Beat will continue to call on Governments in the UK to take an approach to addressing obesity that is non-stigmatising, informed by evidence and does not harm people with eating disorders. After being contacted by Beat campaigners, a number of politicians pledged their support to the campaign. Though we couldn’t stop the legislation passing, we have raised so much awareness with so many MPs, so it’s an important time to let them know more about the many other difficulties faced by those with eating disorders, including the unacceptably long waits faced for treatment. 

Contacting your representative in Parliament to let them know how strongly you feel about this is the next important step to get our voices heard up and down the UK. You can contact your MP by sending them an email drawing their attention to the need to improve access to treatment for people with eating disorders. With the pandemic, and the introduction of calorie labelling in larger restaurants, cafes and take-aways this is more important than ever.  

Take action 

Advice for eating out with Calorie Labelling

It’s very disappointing that the UK Parliament has passed legislation introducing calorie labelling on menus. We know that this will cause a lot of distress to people with eating disorders, so we have also written some guidance on managing eating out with calorie labelling.