Beat is urging caution in response to recently published research into food labelling and calorie consumption. We are particularly concerned that reactions to this research risk exacerbating illness among those suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders.
We know that many people with eating disorders struggle with excessive exercising, so being told how much exercise it would take to burn off particular foods risks triggering their illness further. Additionally, while adverse health effects are associated with increasing obesity, it is less well acknowledged that low weight also carries equally serious risks.
Researchers from Loughborough University have found that including information on food labels about how much exercise is needed to burn off the food’s calories may reduce the number of calories eaten, compared with other types of food labelling.
Much of the resulting media coverage presented this as a recommendation that food packaging should include this information. The research does not in fact make such a recommendation: rather, it simply reviews and reports the data available. The Royal Society for Public Health however is calling for exercise/calorie information to be included on labels.
Beat urges any policy makers looking to incorporate this change to consider the risk that it may have seriously negative outcomes for people with eating disorders.
We believe that anti-obesity campaigns that focus on weight instead of health are ineffective and that recommending more exercise is a futile and over-simplistic approach to a complex problem. Most urgently, public health campaigns must consider people’s mental as well as their physical health, moving from obesity-shaming to evidence-based campaigns that instil confidence and support healthy eating.
Beat has also previously spoken out against proposals to include calorie counts on menus.
If you’ve been affected by this story, you can call Beat’s free Helpline for support on 0808 801 0677. You can also speak to our Helpline advisors via one-to-one webchat, email, or you can join our online support groups.