How the Government plans to slim down the UK in the midst of COVID-19

August 3, 2020

Last week the Government announced its plan this week to tackle obesity in Britain, by encouraging overweight people to lose five pounds. They claim this will save the NHS £100 million and help lower their risk of dying from coronavirus.

As well as banning junk food adverts before 9pm and launching a weight loss app, the Government plan to include calorie counts on the menus of restaurants which have more than 250 employees.

The Government’s messaging emphasises that the proposed legislation is designed to promote an “informed decision” to “fight obesity,” and offer diners greater transparency in what they are eating. However, eating disorder recovery charity Beat have stated that “calorie labelling exacerbates eating disorders of all kinds.” They claim that treating nutrition and health as a maths problem is an incredibly reductive approach, especially when going out to eat is already a fraught situation for those suffering from an ED.

We are currently living at a time when eating disorders have the “highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder” [1]. Over the last 30-40 years, the prevalence of eating disorders has increased to become a widespread problem across the UK, with up to 3.4 million people nationwide affected [2].

(Picture: Hope Virgo / Getty Images)

As a result, the Government’s proposed plans have been met with an abundance of criticism. Mental health champion Hope Virgo has launched a petition against the move, saying people with, recovering from or susceptible to eating disorders could be triggered by seeing numbers of calories in their meals.

‘I came out of hospital 11 years ago, and even now I feel worried about going into restaurants,’ she said. ‘So for people who are not as far through their recovery, it’s really triggering and it could be detrimental to someone’s recovery, and make them become even more isolated. ‘It normalises that kind of conversation around calories while out eating, when everyone needs a different amount of calories anyway – it’s not one size fits all.’

Her petition #CurbTheCount currently has over 17,500 signatures, and calls for need to be focus on education, the whole person, wellbeing and moving away from BMI [3].

In response to the widespread negative backlash, a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We do recognise concerns about calorie labelling and are committed to striking a careful balance between informing and educating people to make healthier choices whilst not negatively impacting people with eating disorders or those in recovery from eating disorders.’

For the Government to implement such policies during a global pandemic, is particularly insensitive, as lockdown proved to be difficult for those with eating disorders when there was such a huge focus on social media and using the extra time to try and lose weight. Moreover, the Government’s timing is especially odd given that, in the same week Rishi Sunak announced a ‘eat out to help out’ initiative which offers customers money off of up to £10 per head when going to restaurants from Monday to Wednesday in August. This scheme is in direct juxtaposition to their proposed anti-obesity measures, as it seemingly encourages people to go and indulgence in restaurants.

Ultimately, the Government’s decision to combat obesity by publishing calories on menus will do more harm than good for those dealing with disordered eating. It will act as a trigger to mental illnesses and make ED recovery that little bit harder, especially given the insensitive timing.

References:

[1] https://www.priorygroup.com/eating-disorders/eating-disorder-statistics
[2] https://www.priorygroup.com/eating-disorders/eating-disorder-statistics
[3] https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-stop-calories-being-displayed-on-menus

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