Out of home sector - mandatory calorie labelling: consultation

The public is being invited to have their say on plans to add the number of calories to menus in the out of home food sector including cafes, restaurants and takeaways.

3. Rationale for intervention

3.1 The COVID-19 pandemic reaffirms the need to reduce levels of excess weight, given the associated health risks, including the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. In 2020 PHE estimated that having a BMI of 35 to 40 could increase a person's chances of dying from COVID-19 by 40%, while a BMI greater than 40 could increase the risk by 90%.

3.2 Approximately two out of three adults in Scotland are living with overweight or obesity. In 2019, 70% of adults in the most deprived areas of Scotland were living with overweight or obesity, compared to 60% of adults in the least deprived areas. A higher prevalence of excess weight is also seen in some minority ethnic groups, with the health risks of obesity arising at a lower BMI. These variations in the prevalence of obesity overlap with the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 amongst people living in more deprived areas and minority ethnic groups.

3.3 Calories are not the only criterion for whether a diet might be considered healthy but they are an important piece of information for any consumer looking to inform their purchase. While some calorific food items may yield other beneficial properties such as fibre, vitamin or mineral content, the Scottish diet as a whole contains too many calories. Scotland therefore has a dietary goal to reduce calorie consumption by around 120 calories per person per day.

3.4 The proposal within this consultation is for calorie information only rather than including additional nutrition information about protein, fats and carbohydrates. This is due to the simplicity of calorie information and for practicality.

3.5 In its published recommendations to Ministers, FSS advised that nutrition information, in addition to calories, is provided online or on printed materials by a number of larger OOH providers voluntarily. However, this information is often incomplete, and can be misleading in the way it is presented. This lack of consistency can lead to confusion for consumers. FSS recognised that full nutritional labelling is more complex to provide than basic calorie labelling. However, FSS believed it is important that the industry agrees to an acceptable voluntary standard for the presentation of full nutrition information (other than calorie information) for businesses that voluntarily provide this level of information.

3.6 That is why, as we set out in our OOH Action Plan, FSS will review work to date and engage with industry partners to recommend a voluntary standardised format for OOH businesses who provide full nutrition information (other than calorie information) online and/or on printed materials. This review by FSS is not subject to consultation within this consultation paper, which concerns calorie information only.

3.7 Food information, whether mandatory or provided voluntarily must be accurate and not mislead consumers, regardless of where the food is purchased. In the retail environment, consumers have easy access to accurate calorie and nutrient information on the labels of prepacked food. This information is required by law[2], and businesses are required to comply with it.

3.8 However, calorie information on non-prepacked food OOH is not mandatory, and as described in section 1 above, there is currently a very low prevalence of calorie information for non-prepacked foods ready for immediate consumption sold OOH. Research by FSS demonstrates that consumers find it difficult to make healthier choices when eating away from home, with 57% agreeing there are not enough healthy choices when ordering takeaway/delivery.

3.9 Furthermore, the presentation of calorie information, even where available, is inconsistent and sometimes hard for consumers to find or see at the point of choice. Clear requirements on calorie information provision would make it easier for consumers to find, and support business on how and where to make it available.

3.10 FSS has reviewed the global evidence of the impact of calorie labelling on the number of calories purchased or consumed. Whilst the evidence base is mixed, overall it shows a reduction in the number of calories purchased or consumed when calorie information is present.

3.11 We expect that businesses will use the calorie information that they generate for their offerings to reformulate some of these offerings. Research on businesses outwith the UK found that, on average, businesses reduced the calorie content of items they serve after the implementation of calorie labelling. This could be as simple as a reduction of portion size, on-site changes to recipes or preparation or a change to a lower calorie option through the item's supplier. This reformulation will have a positive effect on reducing calories across the population without the need for consumers to make a conscious choice. This is particularly important as there is increasing evidence that population wide measures such as reformulation are more likely to be equally or more effective among those experiencing health inequalities, thereby contributing to addressing this. Furthermore, evidence suggests that reduction in portion size can lead to a reduction in daily energy intake, and that over time this results in lower body weight.

3.12 While we believe that the provision of calorie information would be beneficial to consumers to make informed choices, we recognise that this may pose difficulties for others such as those who are impacted by an eating disorder. This consultation provides a way to identify these potential difficulties and an opportunity to propose potential solutions. We would carefully consider these in relation to how we might implement the policy.

3.13 Overall, there is strong consumer support for calorie labelling in the OOH sector; 79% of respondents to a PHE survey thought that menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks. Furthermore, in response to the consultation held by FSS in 2018, 68% of respondents were in favour of mandatory calorie labelling in the OOH sector. FSS research also shows consumers would like more help in making healthier choices, with 44%saying they find it difficult to know which options are healthy and which are not healthy when ordering takeaway/delivery.

Question 1 – Should mandatory calorie labelling at point of choice, for example, menus, menu boards or digital ordering apps in the OOH sector (as listed in paragraph 1.2) in Scotland be implemented?



Don't know

Please explain your answer

Question 2 - Should any of the sectors listed in paragraph 1.2 be exempt from mandatory calorie labelling? If yes please explain why.

Yes (please explain why)


Don't know



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