Calories Front and Centre Can Lead to Better Choices

I would like to make a confession to the blog audience – I am a big fan of the peanut butter cookie. It’s one of those decadently unhealthy options that I find hard to pass up. The other day I was running between work and picking kids up for soccer practice and found myself in Starbucks. I was hungry and had failed to pack a snack to stop my cookie craving. So, I ordered a tea and the peanut butter cookie to go.  It was a big cookie and not the most sensible option, but I threw caution to the wind.

If I had seen then (right on the menu) what I know now, I would have chosen a better option – like maybe the breakfast sandwich which actually has protein and is just 350 calories. Because in researching this blog, I took a look on the Starbucks menu provided on the BC Informed Dining website. I am a little horrified to note that the cookie I ate that day was 480 calories – almost a quarter of a day’s worth!  And I was still hungry after.

Soon customers in Ontario restaurants will have the facts right in front of them. Ontario has seen two proposals in the last week to strengthen the ability of families and individuals to make healthier choices at the point of purchase.  These proposals will apply to restaurants with five or more locations that do over $5 million in business annually. The government tabled legislation that will put calorie counts on the menu board along with the price of a breakfast sandwich or hamburger.

This change is being applauded by health advocates in Ontario, like the Ontario Medical Association and puts the information a bit more front and centre than BC’s Informed Dining program. It also levels the playing field by demanding that all restaurants comply, while BC’s program remains voluntary.

BCAHL is a big believer in empowering consumers to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and that means clear information at point of purchase. If you knew that by going with one burger over another that you’d save 300 calories and a whack of salt, and still get what you came for, there’s good reason to believe consumers will make the healthier choice. I know I would have.

This can also encourage the business to add healthier options or reformulate unhealthy recipes. And while critics will point out that you came for a burger, you’re unlikely to pick up a salad, there are better choices out there in the burger category. Now Ontarians will know right away.

The CBC news item on the legislation explains the details:

The calorie information must be prominently displayed in type as large as the price, with information for all varieties, flavours and sizes of each item.

Restaurant owners will also be required to have available brochures with more detailed nutritional information on each item as well as flagging each high or very high sodium item.

This makes sense to me, because when we’re running in for a quick purchase, we don’t look for a brochure or poster to tell us what we need to know. Placing the information front and centre on menu boards makes sense for the way consumers shop.  That way, even if we’re on the go-go – we can still make a hurried but healthier choice.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy & Programming
February 2014

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