Health campaigners have urged the Government not to “water down” plans to introduce mandatory calorie labelling in restaurants over concerns just 520 businesses could be included.
The proposals, which are part of the Government’s strategy to halve childhood obesity by 2030, are aimed at ensuring that calorie labelling is consistently available in restaurants so the public has enough information to make healthy choices wherever they may choose to eat.
However, Diabetes UK said indications that the proposals could exempt all businesses with fewer than 250 employees would mean only the largest chains would be required to introduce calorie labels on menus or at the point of selection.
If this was the case, the charity calculated that only 0.3% of relevant businesses would be included – or around 520 out of a total of 168,040 in the accommodation and food services sector across England.
The Government is yet to publish the results of a consultation that ended in December.
Diabetes UK said its own research suggested 76% of UK adults wanted to see calorie information on the menus of all cafes and restaurants, while 75% agreed the same in relation to takeaways.
Obesity is a key risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes and one in three children are overweight or obese, according to Diabetes UK.
Type 2 is preventable and reversible, yet the number of children and young people being treated for Type 2 diabetes has increased by nearly half in four years, according to the Health Department, which added that without intervention, more than five million people in the UK will have the condition by 2025.
Helen Dickens, assistant director of policy and campaigns at Diabetes UK, said: “Exempting 99.7% of businesses from its calorie labelling legislation would be a cop out from our government.
“The UK is gripped by an obesity crisis. Urgent action is needed to address it, but if the Government water down their original commitments, then the legislation will have significantly less impact. If the Government is serious about addressing inequalities and supporting the most vulnerable in our society, then they must be ambitious in their action to tackle obesity.
“The Government must publish their calorie labelling plans urgently, and provide assurances that medium sized businesses are included in their plans – along with a clear timeline for implementation in these businesses.”
Caroline Cerny from the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, said: “We know that calorie labelling on menus can help people pick the healthier options.
“If the Government is serious about reducing childhood obesity, they must ensure that calorie labelling applies to restaurants, cafes and takeaways of all sizes so people have information about the food they eat, wherever they choose to eat.”
Kate Oldridge-Turner, head of policy and public affairs at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “We have started to take positive steps in the UK, such as the introduction of a sugary drinks tax last year, to help make our environments healthier so that it is easier for people to make healthy choices.
“However, more needs to be done – the Government needs to be bold by implementing further policies, such as restrictions on junk food marketing to children by banning the use of cartoons across all media and subsidies on healthy food – it is paramount for our children’s future health.”