Giving context to calorie information

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There’s a time and place for guiltily tucking into a McDonald’s meal. Understanding that time andplace will be made easier as food brands are more forthcoming about presenting calorie information.McDonald’s is adding calorific content information to its menus for customers, just as the Governmentannounces that British people need to shave 100 calories a day off their intake.

The problem of obesity and personal health in the UK is alarming. Data from the NHS shows that 30% more people were diagnosed as obese in 2009/10 than they were in 2008/09.

We could debate for hours why this is. We need to ask questions, such as why is it that people have become increasingly less able to make the right decisions when it comes to food? Surely it doesn’t seem hard on the face of it. The guideline daily amounts (GDA) for the average adult woman to maintain a healthy weight is 2,000 calories a day and 70 grams of fat. For men it’s about 2,500 calories; and to lose weight, you should eat less than that.

Keeping tabs on calorie intake when eating out at restaurants may have been difficult in the past, but now, as our trends feature in this week’s magazine discusses, providing calorie information in more food outlets is becoming the norm and is being largely welcomed by the public. In our exclusive consumer survey, which should feature on our website later today, 75% believe adding calorie information to food menus is a positive move.

It’s in line with what I wrote a year ago; that food brands have the power to change our eating habits.

As Jameson Robinson from Wetherspoons says in our feature: “If a food service operator fails to provide this kind of information at the point of ordering, a consumer probably has a right to wonder what they are hiding”.

This is an encouraging reaction to health secretary Andrew Lansley’s recent warning that we need to cut our food intake by 100 calories a day. If we can see it in front of us, we’ll know just where we can cut that 100 calories.

And when the likes of McDonald’s and KFC spell out in black and white the high fat and calorie nature of their most popular products, we know a change is beginning and we can make better decisions about balancing our diets. If I can see that if a Big Mac is going to “cost me” 500 calories and 25 grams of fat, I’ll be able to take that away from my daily allowance of 2,000 and be able to consider the rest of my meal choices accordingly.

But even though I know this, how many people out there don’t? What I feel is missing is context. While the calorie content of a Big Mac might be plain to see on a menu board, how it fits into a daily diet is not and this is something that needs to be worked on.

Most people are familiar with the concept of “5 a day” in terms of fruit and vegetable consumption and this is because a lot of marketing spend has gone behind it, from the Government and food brands. Even though the GDA labelling concept has its own website, you don’t hear this talked about nearly as much, yet I’d argue that this is just as important, if not more, especially in terms of educating people about common sense balanced diets.

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