Calorie count postings sought for fast food outlets

by | Mar 7, 2014 | News

Celia Grimbly
News Reporter

Fast food is good, but it’s not good for you – and the Government of Ontario is making sure you know that.

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care introduced new legislation on Feb. 24 that would require restaurant and fast food establishments to post calorie counts of the food and beverages on their menus.

The legislation applies to restaurants, convenience stories and grocery stores with 20 or more locations in Ontario, the news release said.

David Jensen, a ministry spokesperson, said in an email that if the legislation passes, individuals and corporations not meeting the requirements can face up to $500 and $5,000 fines per day for first offences, respectively, and $1,000 and $10,000 fines per day for subsequent offences.

Ontario aims to raise awareness about calorie content and encourage restaurants and food markets to provide healthier options, said Jensen.

The legislation makes it easier for patrons to choose healthier items available at food establishments and “will create a more supportive food environment,” he said.

Reports published by The Canadian Institute for Health Information, The Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Canadian Journal of Public Health, The Ontario Medical Association, and other health organizations recommend labelling menus with nutritional information, Jensen said.

Sergiu Fediuc, a professor for the fitness and health promotion and exercise science and lifestyle management programs at Humber, said he agrees the new legislation is a good step towards making people more informed about the food they eat.

“I think a lot of people know (fast food’s) bad for them but I don’t think they know how bad it is,” said Fediuc. “Although, it’s difficult to say whether it will deter people or not.”

Fediuc said he thinks posting calories on menus will make people who are already health conscious more health conscious, but may not deter people who do not consider the health effects of the food they’re eating.

“The textbook definition of a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat one kilogram or one litre of water by one degree Celsius. It’s essentially a unit of energy, a unit of heat energy,” Fediuc said.

Catherine McKee, program coordinator for Humber’s nursing program, said sugar, salt, and fat content of food are the ingredients most detrimental to our health, but calories can also inform people about the food they are eating.

“The General Guide to Calories provides a general reference for calories when you look at a Nutrition Facts label,” said McKee. “Forty calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories or more is high.”

She said consuming too many calories in a day is linked to weight gain and obesity.

Jensen said posting calories “most closely aligns with Ontario’s commitment to reduce overweight and obesity in children.”

“The formula for it is calories in and calories out. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the basic formula for how someone gets obese,” said Fediuc.

He said, however, many people don’t know how many calories they should be consuming on a daily basis.

“If you don’t understand that number, it’s very difficult to contextualize what a 300 or 400 calorie item means for you,” Fediuc said.

It is important to look at other nutritional information when comparing different food items with the same number of calories, he said.

“I think it can be potentially misleading for some people to see an item at Tim Hortons for 200 calories and something at Freshii for 200 calories and think they are the same, when in fact they’re not,” said Fediuc.

“If people do choose – and they stick to choosing – the lower calorie option all the time and they’re consistent, you would see weight loss,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think at best, we will see weight maintenance but, even so, if people maintain their weight, that’s still a relatively significant effect that’s worth talking about.”