Menu labelling linked to less fat and salt in food, new research suggests

18/10/2019 - 11:10
Food sold at restaurants whose menu displays energy information are lower in fat and salt than their competitors, according to new research from The Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at Cambridge University.

Obesity is one of the biggest challenges to public health, since 1975 obesity levels worldwide have almost tripled. A poor diet can also cause type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The research form CEDAR wanted to investigate whether there were differences in the energy and nutritional content of menu items served by popular UK chain restaurants with, versus without, voluntary menu labelling in their stores.

The team first looked at energy and nutritional information on the websites of the most popular 100 UK restaurant chains during March and April 2018. Of these 100 restaurants, 42 provided some form of energy and nutritional information online, but only 13 provided menu labelling in stores.

Items from restaurants with in-store menu labelling had on average 45% less fat and 60% less salt than items from other restaurants.

The researchers argue that if the government introduced mandatory labelling it might encourage restaurants to produce healthier options.

Dolly Theis from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge, said: “This is the first study to look at differences in nutritional content of food from restaurants with and without menu labelling in the UK.

“It suggests that on the whole, restaurants that provide information on calories on menus also serve healthier food, in terms of fat and salt levels. As well as providing useful information for customers, mandatory menu labelling could also encourage restaurants to improve the nutritional quality of their menus.”

In May 2018 mandatory labelling for large restaurant chains was introduced to the Unites States whereas in the UK there is only a voluntary menu labelling system.

Dr Jean Adams added: “We found some restaurant items that hugely exceeded the daily recommended intake for energy, fats, sugar and salt.

“More than a quarter of UK adults eat meals out at least once a week, so such large or nutritionally-imbalanced portions could contribute to poor dietary intake at a population level.”

The assumption behind such measures is that if people are given clearer information on the energy content of food served they are more likely to make ‘better’ choices.

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