Nutritional labeling on menus is as important as the labeling of pre-packaged foods. Unlike the latter one, which has become compulsory under EU law since 2016, the labeling on menus is still not mandatory in the UK.
Why is menu labeling necessary?
According to research, the number of people in the UK that eat out and order takeaways is increasing day by day. Most people prefer ready-to-eat meals instead of food prepared at home.
Some earlier research estimates show that nearly 25 % of the UK adults and one-fifth of the children order a takeaway or eat at a restaurant at least once in a week. Foods not prepared at home are less healthy and more calorie-rich.
Also, such foods contain more sugar, salt, and fat than the food prepared at home. Eating out is beneficial for a large and important commercial sector. But, on the contrary, it also contributes to the obesity crisis and an increase in diseases like obesity and diabetes type 2.
Having nutritional labeling on menus can tell what you are biting into. So, it may help in making healthy and mindful choices. And act as a powerful strategy to change the eating habits of the public.
The UK government included voluntary nutritional labeling on menus in its Public Health Responsibility Deal in 2011. Since then, many restaurants have introduced menu labeling. Among the top 100 UK’s chain restaurants, nearly 42 publish nutritional information on their websites.
And of these, only 14 provide menu labeling voluntarily in their establishments. The UK government’s Childhood Obesity Plan has also included a proposal to mandate menu labeling. Even after the public consultation closed last December, up till now there is no announcement on a final policy.
Beneficial effects of menu labeling
Some other countries like the US (in 2019) and parts of Australia have also mandated the nutritional labeling on menus. Research shows food and drinks offered at the top UK restaurants that display menus with nutritional information are lower in salt and fat than that of their competitors.
Menu labeling is often promoted as a way to deliver information that will help people in choosing healthier dishes. But several reviews including the latest Cochrane review have found only modest and poor quality evidence of an effect of menu labeling on purchase and consumption.
Researchers suggest that the benefit of labeling menus may not necessarily help consumers in making healthier choices. But it motivates restaurants to offer healthier drinks and food. Without nutritional labeling, it is difficult to point at the area that needs improvement.
Moreover, the labeling in only beneficial if it is accurate. In 2018, a study was carried out on the views of Irish food-service businesses towards voluntary menu labeling. It has found that the main barriers for implementation include concern about lack of training to provide quality calorie information and possible inaccuracies in calorie-information.
Mandating the food outlets to provide menu labeling need greater support and training. But it may also enhance the demand for efficient, accurate, and accessible methods of data collection, like electronic database analysis or laboratory. Shortly, menu labeling promises easier ways to represent the nutritional quality of foods present on restaurant menus.