Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Sunday, 5 April 2009 00:03 UK

Chains begin counting calories

By Graham Satchell
BBC News

"I certainly don't look at the calories"

Do you count the calories? Would you like to know how many there are in your pizza, burger or sandwich?

Some 18 restaurant chains and catering companies around the UK have begun showing the number of calories in all their food and drink items on menu boards, paper menus and shelves.

The chains include Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC and Pret a Manger.

The idea has come from the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). They want to encourage people to eat more healthily which they hope will stem the rising tide of obesity.

"Our aim is to ensure that consumers have better information so they can make informed choices to improve their diet when eating out, whether that is a snack on the go, a meal in a staff restaurant or at a table being served by a waiter," said Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA said.

Changed behaviour

The daily recommended calorie intake for men is 2,500. For women it is 2,000.

Many restaurant chains already post information about calorie content on their websites. At Pizza Hut, for example, a medium chicken supreme pizza with six slices is 1,320 calories, while their chocolate fudge cake is 686 calories.

Ken Percival
It wouldn't affect me because I don't look at calories
Ken Percival

A total of 2,006 calories - more than the recommended daily amount for a woman - although Pizza Hut says the medium chicken supreme is designed to share.

A similar idea has been running in parts of the United States since 2007. In New York officials have found it has changed customers behaviour and, on average, the calories consumed has gone down by 50 to 100 calories per choice.

So will it work in the UK? I spoke to diners at a Pizza Hut in the centre of London.

Ken Percival says he does not know how many calories he is meant to have a day, and nor does he really care.

"Personally, it wouldn't affect me because I don't look at calories," he says. "I look at the dish and, if it's attractive, that's what I'll eat."

But Ken's wife Maureen says it would definitely influence her choice in a restaurant.

Mary Skeldon
if you were undecided between two dishes - especially if you were a woman - you would probably go for the lower one
Mary Skeldon

"I think it's a really really good idea because I'm always on a diet, always trying to lose weight so that would be really helpful for me," Maureen adds.

Brian Skeldon told me he does not count the calories at the moment. But he thinks the idea is a good one.

"If there is calorie information on the menu and it says this is a better, healthy food to eat it may make a difference," he says.

"I would certainly consider it. It would make you think about it."

And Mary Skeldon believes it may help to make difficult decisions.

"I think if you were undecided between two dishes - especially if you were a woman - you would probably go for the lower one if you weren't sure," she continues.

"But if I really like something I would still have it."

'Added cost'

The restaurant industry has mixed views. Those taking part say it is right to give their customers as much information as possible.

But Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, which represents 30,000 restaurants and catering firms, says: "The sector is having its most difficult trading in 40 years and the last thing we want is anything that is an added cost to the business.

Why not just let people enjoy their dinner in peace?
Antony Worrall Thompson

"The next 12 months is not the time for anything like this. We are looking to protect jobs."

And celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson has said that this is another example of the hectoring nanny state.

"People already know what foods are good or bad for them and use their judgment when choosing.

"Printing the number of calories next to a dish won't give customers a full picture. Olive oil, for example, is very good for you but it would add a lot of calories to a dish. Why not just let people enjoy their dinner in peace?"

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