Food outlet labelling could cut heart deaths - study

More than 9,000 heart-disease related deaths could be prevented in England over the next 20 years if all establishments that served food displayed calories on their menus, a Liverpool study has suggested.

Current government rules stipulate only large firms – like pub or restaurant chains - are legally required to provide calorie information for non-prepacked food and soft drinks.

Researchers said under these rules - which came into force in April 2022 - only around 730 deaths from cardiovascular diseases may be prevented by 2041.

Obesity prevalence in England would reduce by just by 0.31 percentage points in the next two decades, whereas a full implementation of the policy - across all food businesses - would reduce this by 2.65 percentage points.

The policy now applies to only 18% of food businesses. If it was extended to all smaller companies in England then around 9,200 deaths could be prevented - nearly 13 times more than current figures, the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University team reported in The Lancet.

More than one in four adults in England are currently living with obesity and a further 37.9% are overweight, increasing risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Andrew Jones, a senior lecturer in psychology at LJMU said: “Our modelling suggests widespread calorie labelling for food consumed in the out-of-home sector could help to prevent or postpone rates of obesity and deaths from cardiovascular disease deaths over a 20-year time period.”

Zoe Colombet, lecturer in epidemiology and public health at the University of Liverpool, said improved labelling "could play an important part in government strategies to support people in making healthier choices to tackle obesity", however, she added one policy "cannot solve" the obesity crisis in England.

She urged the government to continue with and bolster a wide range of policies including "tackling junk food marketing and the soft drinks industry levy".

Other important factors the researchers said to consider were the costs to small businesses, the impact on consumers and the "potential unintended negative consequences such as those on eating disorders". 

Mandatory calorie labelling that currently exists in England is also being considered in Wales and Scotland.

-The effect of calorie labelling in the out-of-the-home food sector on adult obesity prevalence, cardiovascular mortality and inequalities in England: a modelling study is published in The Lancet.



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