Calorie count not enough

The Ontario government’s efforts to include nutrition data on menus is worthwhile, but encouraging healthy choices can’t stop there.

A proposed bill would make Ontario the first province to require all restaurants, fast-food outlets, supermarkets and convenience stores with 20 or more locations province-wide to include calorie data on their menus.

From a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto — where 17 to 30 per cent of 3,080 participants altered their food order after seeing calorie data on menus — it’s clear that nutritional information changes the way consumers look at menus.

Consumers deserve to know what’s in their food so that they’re better able to make informed decisions. Certain menu items can be misleading, which might mean individuals, even when they want to make healthier choices, don’t adjust their choices accurately.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has been a major supporter of the bill, as heart disease is the number one cause of death among Canadian men and women.

But the Liberal government’s efforts are in some ways limited, as calorie and sodium levels aren’t the most informative measures of the nutritional value of food. It would be more valuable to include fats, as trans fat is a major enemy to a healthy heart.

The greater issue at hand is that the average consumer doesn’t fully understand the significance of calorie, sodium and trans fat data. Consumers need to be given the tools to understand nutritional information.

While menu labeling is a good way to help consumers think in those terms, the province and organizations like the Heart and Stroke Foundation need to educate consumers at every stage, rather than simply at the point of purchase.

Journal Editorial Board

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