Food for the Future: How Cafes and Restaurants Can Lower Obesity Levels in the UK

There’s a growing concern for the levels of people suffering from obesity in the UK. Across the country, there are countless initiatives to encourage healthy eating and activity. However, the problem remains one of the nation’s biggest issues for adults and children alike.

But what can cafes and restaurants do to assist in the fight against obesity in the UK? Far from exacerbating the problem or adversely impacting profits, businesses that offer healthier foods can help lower the number of overweight people living in the UK. From portion control to menu changes, we explore how catering professionals can offer calorie-conscious produce that boosts profits and keeps them at the cutting edge of the market…

The facts and ramifications of poor diets in the UK

The UK is now a nation of overweight people. According to obesity statistics published by the House of Commons Library in March 2018, roughly 61% of adults in England are obese or overweight. In Wales, approximately 59% of adults are obese or overweight, while in Scotland the figure is 65% and in Northern Ireland the amount reaches about 63%.

The NHS states that obesity can cause a range of conditions, including heart disease, strokes, type-2 diabetes, and various forms of cancer. Considering the seriousness of these illnesses and the strain on finances and labour that caring for people suffering from these conditions can cause the NHS, it’s no surprise that the government is creating initiatives to drive down obesity numbers — most recently via the sugar tax on soft drinks.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK has the sixth-greatest rate of obesity, and in England, treating obesity via pharmaceutical products cost £9.9 million in ingredients alone. Clearly, assistance is needed to create a new attitude to food, which is where catering companies can help — and boost popularity and profits along the way.

How cafes and restaurants can help lower obesity levels

From tweaking recipes to reducing portion sizes, eateries across the UK can make small changes that can result in a great difference to obesity levels.

Using seasonal fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are essential to good health and are also reported to help maintain blood sugar levels and stave off hunger pangs to assist in combating overeating. Studies show that eating seasonally offers us the nutrients and minerals that the human body needs at certain points of the year. For example, foods packed with vitamin C — including kale, apples and Brussel sprouts — all come into season during autumn and winter when we need help fighting off colds and flus. If people feel fitter and healthier, they’re more likely to take care of themselves and have the energy for physical rather than sedentary activities — helping to reduce weight gain.

However, this type of produce isn’t always cheap all year round and ensuring that fruit and veg is fresh is sometimes tricky for professionals in catering. So, how can the industry help lower obesity while protecting profit margins?

Fortunately, if buying seasonally, prices for these foods are often relatively low, as they take less effort for raw food companies to grow. According to an Eat Seasonably report, a basket of fruit and veg bought in the summer can be as much as a third cheaper than the same basket bought out of season. If a café or restaurant tweaks its menu every few months to reflect seasonal food, catering professionals can bulk-buy fresh, healthy produce at a lower cost, while still producing high-quality dishes that customers don’t tire of.

Reassessing serving sizes

According to scientific reports, customers judge a food portion and how much they should eat on its label or how it’s worded on a menu. For example, an experiment showed that people ate more of a serving of pasta when it was referred to as ‘regular’ than when it was labelled ‘double-size’. Those working in cafes and restaurants can help reduce the risk of overeating and encourage the knowledge of healthy meal sizes (typically between 500 and 600 calories) by checking the calorie content of dishes and labelling portion sizes accordingly.

Reducing portion sizes, offering more small-size choices and eliminating the supersize option will not only help customers eat healthier amounts, but also lower the amount of ingredients needed per dish — which means less outlay on food to run a business.

Capitalising on emerging health trends

According to Nisbets’ spring 2018 Pulse Survey, which involved 600 UK catering industry professionals including chefs, front-of-house employees and businesses owners; a quarter of those asked said that healthy eating, such as veganism and vegetarianism, was going to be greatest trend in the industry throughout 2018.

So, make eating healthily as easy as possible for diners by stocking up on takeaway supplies and capitalising on the ‘on-the-go-food’ trend. With the number of people who claim to be vegans rising to 3.5 million in the UK, take advantage of the ‘plant-based-diet’ niche in the market — which has been found to lower BMI and be an effective tool for weight loss — to drive up profits. Eatery owners can even combine the two trends and offer healthy, plant-based dishes pre-packaged and ready for customers to pick up and take away.

Use the surge in social media to enhance reach and influence when it comes to healthy eating. According to restaurant chain Zizzi, 18-35-year-olds spend five days every year looking through food photos on Instagram — with nearly a third stating that they’d avoid a restaurant if its Instagram account was poor. Business hashtags can encourage customers to upload images of their healthy meals. Restaurant and café owners can also give a member of staff the duty of sharing attractive photos of new dishes to show how good their health-conscious menu can look — enticing new customers and promoting healthy-eating at the same time.

Making recipes healthier

Foods high in fat, salt and sugar are believed to influence obesity levels and cause a range of other medical issues if eaten in excess. As a catering industry professional, being mindful of the harm of too much fat, salt and sugar when creating product lists and menus is key to success in 2018 and beyond.

Forget simply reducing how many dishes are on offer, there’s a way to contribute to healthier lifestyles and retain a broad menu with a popular variety of choice. Instead of using salt to flavour dishes, be creative and use lemon juice, spices and herbs instead. If a business offers desserts, alternatives to sugar-laden puddings can include fruit compote, flavoured jelly, sorbet or low-fat ice cream, and dishes made using low-calorie sweetener. Chefs and cooks can oven-bake instead of deep-frying — grilled food is also a trend for 2018 — and create new, internationally-inspired dishes that focus on the use of fresh veg, white fish and seasoning rather than red meat, carbohydrates, pastry, and batter.

There’s plenty that the catering industry can do to help fight obesity levels in the UK. Not only will re-evaluating produce and menu help businesses develop, but employing health-conscious trends and reducing portion sizes will also help cafes and restaurants innovate and cut costs.

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