In England, the government’s Public Health responsibility deal is encouraging fast food restaurants to provide (voluntary) calorie information to try and help consumers become more aware of the energy values of common food stuffs. The approach has been questioned because people may not bother to look at these values, although US research suggests people who use the information eat around 100 calories less that someone who doesn’t use the information.
In this article Lyndal Wellard and Kathy Chapman from the Cancer Council NSW, Australia provide some perspectives on calorie labelling.
A survey of 222 outlets of the five largest fast food chains in Australia (McDonald’s, KFC, Hungry Jacks, Red Rooster and Subway) was conducted in five Australian states to investigate whether nutrition information was available in-store.
Overall, 66% of all outlets surveyed had some nutrition information available in-store. However, availability varied between chains from 33% (Hungry Jack’s) to 95% (Subway). Cancer Council found no information was available in 75 outlets. Interestingly, significantly more information was available in low and medium income areas than in high income areas.
The nutrition information provided was often incomplete. Only one outlet provided information for all its menu items, and there was rarely information available for meal deals. Outlet staff did not always know there was information available or that they could give it to customers. In addition, some of the nutrition information was up to five years old. At times, different nutrient values were provided in different outlets of the same chain.
Why is this important?
Although most outlets had some nutrition information available, it was generally incomplete, meaning that consumers would be unable to use it as a basis for their purchases. Although information for most menu items is available online, most people would not access it while they are making purchasing decisions. To allow consumers to make informed choices, chains should ensure the nutrition information they provide in-store is comprehensive, current and complete for all menu items.
The Australian government is considering implementing mandatory energy labelling on fast food menus. In the meantime, several states are either considering or have introduced their own approaches. Although mandatory energy labelling would be an improvement on existing practices, consumers would also benefit from estimating the fat, saturated fat and sodium contents of fast foods. Therefore including additional nutrients on menu boards is recommended.